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Facing financial struggles and board resignations, Integrity apologizes for lack of transparency

Fri, 10/18/2019 - 6:45pm

An Integrity chapter participates in a Pride parade in Portland, Oregon, in 2012. Integrity has been advocating for LGBTQ inclusion in The Episcopal Church since 1974. Photo: Integrity via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] Integrity, the nonprofit organization dedicated to LGBTQ advocacy within The Episcopal Church, is a shadow of its former self, beset by struggles with leadership, finances and communication – as well as questions about whether it is still relevant or necessary in 2019.

Many longtime members and former Integrity leaders have expressed frustration and concern at what they consider mismanagement and a lack of transparency, and with tension boiling over on social media within the past two weeks, board members say they are making a renewed effort to improve organization and communication.

The Rev. Gwen Fry at the 2015 General Convention. Photo: Integrity via Facebook

“I have failed to be perfect … and I fear that the spiritual, mental, and physical health of Integrity has suffered because of it. For this, I am profoundly sorry for any part that I have contributed to with regard to the health of our organization,” the Rev. Gwen Fry, president of Integrity, wrote in a statement posted on Facebook and Integrity’s new website, which went live on Oct. 17.

Founded in 1974 by Louie Crew to help gay Episcopalians gain acceptance within the church, Integrity grew to have 58 local chapters and about 2,000 active members by 2011, the last year for which it released a complete annual report. With its official mission of full inclusion of all LGBTQ people in the sacramental life of The Episcopal Church, Integrity has been an active presence at General Conventions since 1977, helping draft resolutions and gathering support. Its primary goal was accomplished in 2015, when General Convention approved marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Fry’s term as president has been marked by instability and uncertainty, but Integrity’s struggle to stay afloat in a radically changing environment runs deeper. According to IRS filings, Integrity had $516,152 in net assets at the start of 2013 and had been taking in well over $200,000 per year for the preceding several years. By 2015, the last year it filed a full return to the IRS, Integrity reported $134,029 in net assets. That year, it reported just $54,574 in revenue, but $225,225 in expenses. In January 2018, Integrity laid off the last of its paid staff. The Rev. Gwen Fry, the previous vice president of national affairs who formerly served in the Diocese of Arkansas, was elected president for a three-year term in June 2018, and during the Integrity Eucharist at that year’s General Convention, she announced that Integrity had been renamed The Episcopal Rainbow, though that change has apparently not taken effect.

Much of the confusion expressed by Integrity members focuses on who is actually in charge of the organization. In late 2018,Between March and June, Deanna Bosch, treasurer, Letty Guevara-Cuence, secretary/communications director, and Brent Cox, vice president of national affairs, all resigned, leaving Kay Smith Riggle, vice president of local affairs, as the only remaining elected board member.

“It really had to do with other things going on in those people’s lives and they realized they just didn’t have the time,” Smith Riggle told the Episcopal News Service. “We weren’t really trying to hide anything. Things were moving really quickly and it was difficult to respond to what was happening in addition to getting the information out.”

Integrity’s bylaws specify that if the president is “unable to perform his/her office,” the Stakeholders’ Council (made up of Integrity’s chapter- and diocesan-level leaders) elects a new president to serve the remainder of that term.

Smith Riggle told ENS that a new election was “under consideration” at one point but directed further questions to Fry, who did not respond to requests for an interview.

Over the summer, Integrity announced on Facebook that the Rev. Frederick Clarkson had been appointed treasurer, Lindsey Harts had been appointed secretary and director of communications and Paul Horner had been appointed vice president of national affairs. Integrity’s bylaws allow appointments to fill board member vacancies. It also announced that an internal audit of Integrity’s assets and a new website would be completed by Sept. 1.

But by October, with no audit and the old website (featuring the previous board of directors, whose terms expired in 2018) still up, members began venting their frustration on the official Integrity Facebook group.

“This should be profoundly concerning for all of us who love and believed in this organization and its role within our church, and who play a role on the ground in our parishes and dioceses. We are a people who believe in resurrection. When can we have a serious discussion about what it would take to have a proper resurrection for Integrity USA? Is it better to officially close down, then choose to re-launch after this (long overdue) audit?” wrote Jason Crighton.

“The board seems not to have any funds to work with, and also seems to value a culture of secrecy and distancing itself from the membership. It may be time to let it go,” wrote Frank Dowd, a view shared by other commenters.

Several commenters wrote that their dues checks had been cashed without any acknowledgment or confirmation, that the website’s map of welcoming congregations had not been updated since 2014, and that commenters’ questions were not being answered. Members have repeatedly expressed concern about Integrity’s financial transparency, noting that it has not released a full financial report since 2011 or filed a full 990 return with the IRS since 2015, and have wondered whether the organization is in danger of losing its tax-exempt status.

Although most tax-exempt nonprofits are required to file 990 returns with the IRS annually, organizations that bring in under $50,000 per year can file a 990-N, an “electronic postcard” listing just the group’s basic information and affirming its gross receipts have not exceeded $50,000, to satisfy IRS requirements. Integrity has done that for 2016 and 2017.

The internal audit, which was ordered by the board as part of the administrative transition and done by Clarkson, the treasurer, and Horner, vice president of national affairs, was completed on Oct. 13 and made available to chapters by request. A draft copy of the conclusion provided to ENS said that that “no discernible irregularities were discovered” and listed bank transactions for 2019 to date, all of which were for typical administrative expenses and disbursements to local chapters. Clarkson told ENS that Integrity has about $53,000 on hand as of Oct. 17.

“I think one of the things that most people aren’t aware of – Integrity has no building,” Clarkson told ENS. “Integrity basically was a box of documents that were sent to me and had to be reorganized. … Part of the issue that occurred is that Integrity’s infrastructure, like its website, is ancient.”

Along with the new website, Integrity announced that it is taking a census to figure out exactly how many active chapters and members it has, and that it will be distributing grants of up to $3,000 to censused chapters. Clarkson said that money comes from a bequest from an estate of just over $30,000.

Smith Riggle said changes will be made to the payment system this week so that members paying dues will receive an automatic confirmation. The board is meeting by conference call every two weeks, Smith Riggle said, and further financial information will be posted on the new website.

Clarkson said he has dedicated his time to Integrity because he believes it is still needed – particularly for transgender people, and in more conservative areas of the country – and he wants to help local chapters succeed.

“The most effective thing that integrity can do is support its chapters, because they’re really the ones who do the work.”

Reaction to Integrity’s recent statement has been mixed, with some calling it too little, too late and some grateful for the update but confused about what Integrity’s purpose will be going forward.

The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity from 2003 to 2009, told ENS she’s disappointed at the state Integrity is in now.

“Where there’s no vision, people wallow around and make decisions,” Russell said. “I think that what we’re seeing right now is sort of the last gasp of an organization that has outlived its legacy.”

Russell says she cares deeply about Integrity and wants to see it succeed, but the board has a lot of “deferred maintenance” to do.

“I’m hopeful that something could come out of this. But in order for that to happen, there has to be some healthy leadership and there’s got to be some transparency.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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Executive Council gathers in Montgomery, Alabama, as city underscores theme of racial reconciliation

Fri, 10/18/2019 - 3:31pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gives his opening remarks Oct. 18 during Executive Council’s meeting at the Embassy Suites hotel in Montgomery, Alabama.

[Episcopal News Service – Montgomery, Alabama] The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council gathered here Oct. 18 for a four-day fall meeting with racial reconciliation as a central theme, amplified by this city known for its prominent place in the histories of both the Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The business sessions have been scheduled around a full-day pilgrimage on Oct. 19 that will include visits to the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peach and Justice, as well as a meeting with Bryan Stevenson, the death row attorney whose Equal Justice Initiative founded the two institutions in 2018 to tell the story of racial injustice and violence in the United States, from slavery to mass incarceration.

“It is the history of America, and this is important for us to remember,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in his opening remarks Oct. 18 in a meeting room at the Embassy Suites Montgomery Hotel and Conference Center. “It’s not just a Southern story, and it’s not just a regional story.”

Diane Pollard gives the homily during Morning Prayer on Oct. 18 at Executive Council in Montgomery, Alabama. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The day opened with Morning Prayer and a homily by Diane Pollard, a lay member of Executive Council from the Diocese of New York. Pollard described Montgomery as “a city that is as simple and yet as complex as the shaping of the American dream. If the streets and buildings could only speak to us, what would they say?”

Montgomery is Alabama’s capital and a city of about 200,000 people. It was the first capital of the Confederate States of America in 1861, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis worshiped at St. John’s Episcopal Church here until the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia.

Montgomery also is the city where Rosa Parks was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. In 1961, the Freedom Riders were attacked by white mob at the Montgomery bus terminal. In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr., after leading the voting rights march from Selma, delivered his “How Long, Not Long” speech on the steps of the state capitol before 25,000 people. King got his start as pastor a decade earlier at the nearby Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

Touring the city’s historic sites will offer Executive Council members a lesson in the country’s terrible history of injustice, Pollard said. “These places will also provide us with a painful opportunity to ask ourselves why and how these events could happen,” she said, and they will reveal parallels to present-day injustices. “These issues haunt our existence as the land of the free.”

Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1), and it typically meets three times a year. During this triennium, it has set a goal of meeting once in each of The Episcopal Church’s nine provinces.

Twenty members of Executive Council – four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 laypeople – are elected by General Convention to six-year terms, with half of those members elected every three years. Each of the Episcopal Church’s nine provinces elects an ordained member and a lay member for six years, and those elections also alternate every three years.

Curry, as presiding bishop, serves as president of Executive Council. Vice president is the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, in her position as president of the House of Deputies. Jennings said in her opening remarks that she was eager to meet with and learn from Stevenson during an afternoon gathering Oct. 19 at Church of the Good Shepherd.

“The deep injustices in our justice system are no recent invention,” Jennings said. “Stevenson’s work and witness teach us about the inextricable connection between the enslavement of Africans, the reign of terror known as Jim Crow and the modern-day systemic racism that leads to our country incarcerating more of its citizens than any other nation in the world.”

Jennings also highlighted the work of St. John’s to unravel a racist myth within its own walls. The congregation had long maintained a plaque on a pew that identified it as the place where Jefferson Davis once sat for worship, but research into the pew’s history found that the connection to Davis was tenuous and its 1925 dedication steeped in racism. The congregation announced in February it had removed the plaque and pew.

“The history that most of us learned in school is riddled with stories – you might call them myths – that render invisible the way that race, or what we think of as race, has created and sustained our economy and our social structures, including our churches,” Jennings said.

Curry, in his opening remarks, read a passage from Maya Angelou’s poem “On the Pulse of the Morning.”

“‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived but, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.’ That’s the spirit of being in Montgomery,” Curry said.

The presiding bishop continued by highlighting the positive responses he and his staff have received to the Way of Love, which offers resources centered around seven steps to help Episcopalians bringing Jesus to the center of their daily lives. Curry suggested it shouldn’t be surprising that congregations are adopting the Way of Love, “because I think it reflects who we really are.”

Curry also briefly eulogized Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died this week. Though Cummings was not an Episcopalian, Curry held him up as an example of “just a good human being, who really did try to live out the social teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.” Just as Cummings strived to work with lawmakers who disagreed with him, Curry said The Episcopal Church can be a force for seeking the good in each other, “not to change anybody’s vote but to change how we relate to each other as human beings.”

And Curry, whose sermons frequently quote Martin Luther King Jr., described plans for staging one of The Episcopal Church’s ongoing series of revivals at a major venue in New York. Details of that event are still being worked out, but Curry said the church is embracing greater evangelism because it shares King’s vision that we must “learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish as fools.”

Executive Council’s work is divided among four committees, which will review and finalize resolutions for votes of the full council on Oct. 21. A large portion of those resolutions will come from the Finance Committee, which has begun the process of drafting a budget for the 2022-24 triennium.

The Rev. Mally Lloyd of the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Finance Committee chair, provided an overview of the committee’s agenda, starting with a series of resolutions on gun safety and Israel-Palestine that were submitted by the Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility. Other resolutions will address travel reimbursement for volunteers, fundraising priorities, diocesan assessments and the creation of new meeting rooms at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

The Rev. Michael Barlowe, the General Convention secretary, announced future meeting locations for Executive Council through General Convention 2021. The next meeting will be Feb. 12-15 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the other meetings will be held in Puerto Rico; Baltimore, Maryland; Providence, Rhode Island; and, Cleveland, Ohio.

The Executive Council also is voting to for a replacement for a member who resigned earlier this year. Four nominees were chosen out of 58 applications received for the position, Barlowe said. The council is in the process of voting on those four nominees.

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

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Redlining exhibit at Cleveland cathedral examines historic roots of housing discrimination

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 5:28pm

“Undesigning the Redline” is on view through Dec. 20 at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Trinity Cathedral via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] One of the most pervasive and insidious forms of systemic racism in the 20th century is still with us today: the once federally sanctioned practice of housing discrimination known as redlining. Its impact on American cities can still be seen – and even mapped – in the glaring inequities in access to education, health care and other resources based on where people live.

But many Americans don’t realize that the demographic and economic makeup of the neighborhoods they live in can be traced back to racist government policies from the 1930s, making it difficult to address the root causes of the de-facto segregation seen in many cities.

That’s why Cleveland’s Trinity Cathedral, the seat of the Diocese of Ohio, invited a traveling interactive exhibit called “Undesigning the Redline” to set up shop there.

“This is a cathedral where the congregation and the staff really value our presence as being a part of the wider civic conversation,” said the Very Rev. Bernard J. Owens, dean of the cathedral.

The goal, Owens told the Episcopal News Service, is “to create a space where folks can come in and really see the history for what it is and be changed by that. We’re not trying to tell people what to think. We’re just inviting them in to see what the history really is – how our city grid got made and how we forgot that process – so that we can actually begin to heal.”

In the 1930s, federal agencies created “residential security maps” of hundreds of cities for mortgage lenders, indicating which neighborhoods they considered safe investments and which ones they deemed more risky. Demographics were a significant part of the criteria; areas with high proportions of African-American, Jewish, Asian and Hispanic residents were labeled less desirable and banks were discouraged from investing in those areas. Neighborhoods were color-coded: green for “best,” blue for “still desirable,” yellow for “definitely declining” and red for “hazardous.”

Redlining made it extremely difficult for residents of the “undesirable” neighborhoods to buy homes – one of the causes of today’s racial wealth gap – and it lowered property values there, paving the way for “urban renewal” projects that often razed entire neighborhoods.

“Undesigning the Redline” connects the systemic racism of the past with the persistent inequities of the present. Photo: Trinity Cathedral via Facebook

The interactive exhibit, developed by a New York firm called Designing the WE, has previously been staged in other cities around the country that were affected by redlining. It includes the original 1930s maps distributed by the federal government, along with contemporary maps showing the lingering effects of redlining.

“You place a pin on the map where you live, and you can see visually how the cities were laid out and divided,” Owens said. “Then it’s got maps that list outcomes based on where people live today, so maps that look at access to transportation and health care, poverty, all of which are overlaid over these maps that were put in place 80 years ago.

“‘Lingering effects’ barely begins to state it. It continues to shape and impact the people who live there today,” Owens added.

Owens said the exhibit has elicited personal stories from members of the diocesan and cathedral staff who have been impacted by redlining, and it’s changed the way he thinks about his own neighborhood.

“I can see the neighborhood where I now live, how it was zoned back in the ’30s and how that has impacted who my neighbor is today. And it’s important for me to look at that and now own that because that’s now my history too,” Owens told ENS.

The Very Rev. Bernard J. Owens, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio, takes in the “Undesigning the Redline” exhibit. Photo: Trinity Cathedral via Facebook

The exhibit is on view from Oct. 7 through Dec. 20, and it includes a series of presentations and forums and a trolley tour through the city to see some of the starkest examples of redlined neighborhoods.

Owens sees his cathedral as a place “where we can all come and learn,” and this exhibit is just one way of fulfilling that vision.

“You almost have to want to know about [redlining] to learn about it,” Owens said. “And my hope with exhibits like this – I feel a responsibility as a pastor to communicate to my congregation that this is real. And this shapes everything, like how we are fortunate or not fortunate to have wealth or not. … Reconciliation starts with the willingness to walk into the spaces and look at the history.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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North Dakota diocese to welcome pilgrimages at Standing Rock interpretive center and lodge

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 5:36pm

Youth camp participants pose for a group photo in July in front of the new Star Lodge at St. Gabriel’s Camp in Solen, North Dakota. Photo: John Floberg

[Episcopal News Service] A new lodge at an Episcopal youth camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation will double as a Native American interpretive center, highlighting local history and culture for visitors drawn to the region by an interest in the indigenous rights advocacy there.

The Episcopal Church was a prominent supporter of tribal demonstrators who in 2016 tried to block construction of part of an oil pipeline that they feared could threaten Standing Rock’s drinking water. Despite their objections, the Dakota Access Pipeline was allowed to cross the Missouri River just north of the reservation, and oil began pumping in June 2017.

Since then, the Diocese of North Dakota has welcomed various outside groups, interested in learning about the fight for indigenous and ecological justice, at its St. Gabriel’s Camp in Solen, North Dakota, a few miles west of the Missouri River on the northern edge of the reservation. Disciples of Christ youth groups have visited in each of the past two years. A group from Dayton University in Ohio visited in May, and another is coming in November from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.

The Rev. John Floberg, rector at the diocese’s three congregations serving Standing Rock, has worked with other church leaders to accommodate such pilgrimages as best they can, including by setting up visits with tribal officials and residents. That spirit of welcome is about to swell with the development of the 2,700-square-foot Star Lodge as an interpretive center.

“We’re looking at trying to help people translate what is here to their own communities,” Floberg told Episcopal News Service.

The lodge at St. Gabriel’s Camp is named after the Rev. Terry Star, a 40-year-old deacon and member of Executive Council who died suddenly in 2014 while studying to become a priest. The Rev. Angela Goodhouse-Mauai, who was ordained as a deacon with Star in 2007, said in an interview with ENS that she thought of him as a brother.

“That was a big loss for us,” Goodhouse-Mauai said.

Star’s great-grandfather was Chief Red Hail, whose name had graced the previous lodge until it was struck by lightning and burned down in August 2018. Now, with the help of a United Thank Offering grant and additional funds scheduled to be approved this week by Executive Council, the new Star Lodge will not only restore what was lost in last year’s fire. It also will incorporate geothermal heating and solar power while expanding the diocese’s capacity to host youth groups in the summer and other church groups year-round.

The overall project costs about $280,000, Floberg said, and the structural shell of the new lodge already has been built with money received through the diocese’s insurance after last year’s fire. The $58,000 grant from United Thank Offering, or UTO, and about $20,000 from Executive Council will be used to complete the inside of the lodge and install the renewable energy sources.

Without the sustainable energy upgrade, the diocese wouldn’t be able to afford to keep the lodge open in the cold winter months, said Floberg, who also serves as president of the Diocese of North Dakota Standing Committee. The diocese already upgraded one of its Standing Rock churches, St. James Episcopal Church in Cannon Ball, to geothermal and was able to reduce its winter heating bills to about $130 a month, a small fraction of what propane heat had cost.

The size of Star Lodge is another big upgrade. Its meeting hall alone will be as large as the former lodge, and the diocese is in the process of converting the building’s additional space into a self-contained apartment with three bedrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen. The bedrooms will be able to house up to 16 guests, and the meeting hall can be converted to sleeping quarters to accommodate larger groups.

In addition to its primary use hosting youth groups, the former Red Hail Lodge was the site of trainings for local residents interested in becoming deacons and priests. Developing Native American leaders for service in the church will continue to be part of the mission at Star Lodge, Floberg said.

Star Lodge’s mission mirrors the dedication that its namesake deacon showed to the work of guiding young people in their spiritual development to become church leaders, Goodhouse-Mauai said. At the same time, she is heartened to have the expanded lodge as a resource for visitors “to learn the history of Standing Rock and learn from the people of Standing Rock.”

To that end, the diocese aims to develop racial reconciliation pilgrimages, with programs for 10 to 30 people at a time, through Star Lodge’s interpretive center. One of its core themes, according to the UTO grant application, will be the treaties signed more than a century ago between American Indian tribes and the U.S. government, emphasizing the promises made to the country’s native peoples.

The broader movement to draw attention to those promises gained steam on Oct. 14 as the federal holiday known as Columbus Day was celebrated by a growing number of Americans as Indigenous Peoples Day.

Floberg, speaking to ENS last week, sought to put Christopher Columbus’ 1492 landing in perspective.

“Every acre of this land on this continent was already spoken for,” Floberg said. “There was no vast wilderness where there weren’t people already inhabiting territory. … We’re all on Indian land.” That makes it all the more important, he added, for the church to take the lead in learning about and listening to America’s indigenous residents.

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

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RIP: Robert Estill, ninth bishop of North Carolina, dies at 92

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 12:21pm

The Rt. Rev. Robert Estill at the Diocese of North Carolina’s 201st Annual Convention. Photo: Diocese of North Carolina

[Diocese of North Carolina] The Rt. Rev. Robert Whitridge Estill, the ninth bishop of North Carolina, died on Oct. 9 in Raleigh, North Carolina, surrounded by his family.

Born Sept. 7, 1927, in Lexington, Kentucky, to parents Robert and Elizabeth, Estill witnessed nine decades of history. He put his time to excellent use and was a talented raconteur, always ready with a story about one of his adventures to regale friends and strangers alike. An advocate for those marginalized by the church, Estill served his beloved Episcopal Church with vision and warmth.

“Bishop Estill was an exemplary leader who always lived fully and faithfully into his vocation as a servant of God and of God’s people,” the Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman, bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, said. “He was a man of character who also had a gift for caricature. His cartoons captured the human foibles we all share, as well as a delight in the ways we live and love imperfectly, as agents of God’s grace. Bishop Estill’s humor was never more disarming than when he turned it on himself, which he often did.”

“Bob Estill had the strength of prophetic leadership wrapped in the old-fashioned charms of a Southern gentleman,” the Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, bishop suffragan of the Diocese of North Carolina, said. “He took his role as defender of the faith seriously while also taking himself and the politics of the church lightly. He had a wicked sense of humor that could zing as well as disarm. Best of all was that he could laugh at himself while remaining steadfast in serving God and the church.”

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Kentucky in 1949, Estill went on to earn his Bachelor of Divinity at Episcopal Divinity School in 1952 and later in life his Master of Sacred Theology (1960), Doctor of Ministry (1979) and Doctor of Divinity (1984) from Sewanee, the University of the South. He was ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood in 1952 by the Rt. Rev. William R. Moody, bishop of Lexington. On June 17, 1950, Estill wed Joyce Haynes, with whom he would share a 69-year marriage.

Estill’s service to the church began in his native Kentucky, where he served as the rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Middlesboro (1952-1955) and Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington (1955-1963). He then served in the D.C. area for several years as the rector of St. Alban’s Parish (1969-1973) and a faculty member at Virginia Theological Seminary (1971-1976) before moving to Dallas, Texas, to serve as the rector of St. Michael’s and All Angels (1976-1980). From there he was elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of North Carolina in 1980. He succeeded the Rt. Rev. Thomas Fraser as the ninth bishop of North Carolina on Jan. 27, 1983, when he was consecrated by the Most Rev. John M. Allen. He served as bishop until his retirement in 1994.

As bishop, Estill sought to deepen and extend the ordained ministry of the church through a commitment to clergy continuing education, active encouragement of aspirants for Holy Orders, support for the ordination of women and the revival of the diaconate in this diocese. At the time of his retirement in 1994, he could look with justifiable satisfaction at the growth during his episcopate in the number of clergy resident in the diocese, including an additional 50 female clergy and 22 deacons.

“When Estill was still a priest in the Diocese of Dallas, he was an early and often lonely voice in support of women in lay and ordained ministry,” Hodges-Copple said. “He licensed my mother to be a lay chalice bearer at the Episcopal School of Dallas, a bold move in the early eighties that caused some to resign from the board of trustees. I chose to do my discernment process in the Diocese of North Carolina because I knew under Bishop Estill’s leadership I could just be my full and honest self without needing to defend women’s equality in general.”

Estill also sought to strengthen diocesan institutions and to honor long-standing mission commitments. He was a strong proponent of youth, campus and social ministries. A capital campaign conducted in the 1980s enabled the diocese to expand the facilities of the Camp & Conference Center.

In addition to his service to The Episcopal Church as priest and bishop, Estill also served as the chair of the Kentucky Human Rights Commission for 31 years and on the board of trustees of General Theological Seminary. He taught at Duke Divinity School, presided over the North Carolina Council of Churches, and chaired the Episcopal Church Board of Theological Education and the board of Kanuga Camp and Conference Center. He was also the author of “The Sun Shines Bright,” a memoir published in 2017.

“There was a graciousness to him that made one feel as though there was room to be yourself in his presence, a generous spirit that always left me feeling more sure of God’s love,” Rodman said. “In addition to our occasional visits, it was a great gift, recently, to be invited to celebrate with him a Sunday service that he offered faithfully once a month to the residents of Cypress Residential Community, where he and Joyce made their home. His devotion to God and to God’s people was his constant focus, and in this he embodied what it means to be faithful.”

Estill is survived by his wife, Joyce, their three children, Helen Estill Foote, Robert W. Estill, Jr. and Elizabeth Estill Robertson, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held on Saturday, Oct. 19 at 11 a.m. in the sanctuary of Christ Church, 120 E. Edenton St., Raleigh, NC.

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New York’s St. John the Divine makes progress on cathedral restoration six months after fire

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 3:28pm

Bishop Clifton Daniel, dean of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, speaks Oct. 10 at the New York City Fire Department’s annual memorial service, held at the cathedral. Photo: Cathedral of St. John the Divine, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine hosted the New York City Fire Department’s annual memorial service on Oct. 10, and with a fire cleanup crew’s scaffolding serving as part of the backdrop for the ceremony, Bishop Clifton Daniel, the cathedral’s dean, stood to offer a brief welcome.

Daniel noted that city firefighters had responded to significant fires at the cathedral twice in the past two decades, most recently in April on Palm Sunday. “On behalf of a grateful cathedral and a grateful city, thank you,” he said.

The fire on April 14 prompted a sudden evacuation of the cathedral, where the 9 a.m. Palm Sunday service had just ended. The 11 a.m. service was moved outside as smoke billowed from the building. Church leaders initially expressed relief that no one was hurt and that most of the damage from the fire was confined to an art storage room in the cathedral’s basement crypt.

The fire’s severity paled in comparison to the damage sustained in a terrifying blaze the following day at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, but as with Notre Dame, recovery at St. John the Divine has been a slow, gradual process that still is disrupting some cathedral operations six months later.

St. John the Divine canceled its popular St. Francis Day Festal Eucharist, which typically draws more than 2,000 pets and their owners to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Even so, the cathedral was able to hold a St. Francis Day Fair on Oct. 6 outside, with pet blessings, a costume parade and children’s activities.

Hosting the Oct. 10 memorial service for firefighters “took on a special meaning,” the cathedral said in a Facebook post. “We saw firsthand their commitment, professionalism and respect.”

The Cathedral was honored to host the annual @FDNY memorial today. We're grateful for the sacrifices these brave people make every day, but the event took on a special meaning given that we're still in the midst of cleaning up from our Palm Sunday fire. pic.twitter.com/UwBbXkSzD7

— Cathedral of St. John the Divine (@StJohnDivineNYC) October 10, 2019

Some artworks were damaged by the fire, but the continued disruptions primarily are due to the smoke. Right after the fire, crews cleaned everything below 10 feet to allow the cathedral to reopen quickly, but the greater challenge has been cleaning the walls, windows and ceilings above 10 feet.

“This work has required a great deal of flexibility, cooperation and patience on the part of staff, visitors, worshipers and the cleaning crews, as we moved services and adjusted public events to accommodate the needs of such an undertaking,” the cathedral said in an update for its fall 2019 newsletter.

A Sept. 6 photo shared on St. John the Divine’s Facebook page shows crews cleaning the cathedral’s stonework after it was damaged by smoke from a fire in April.

Access to parts of the cathedral has been limited as workers from Maxons Restorations raise their lifts high to clean the facility’s lofty heights. The scaffolding was brought in for the more complicated task of cleaning above the high altar.

The cleanup also has prompted some early closings and canceled services and disrupted the plans of the many sightseers who visit St. John the Divine to view its grand architecture. The cathedral, one of the world’s largest churches, began charging tourists $10 admission about two years ago, but it reportedly has reduced the price while renovations are underway.

The cathedral, which also serves as seat of the Diocese of New York, posts schedule updates on its website.

With several prominent areas of the cathedral’s worship space closed, including the high altar, great choir and crossing, Sunday services have been confined to the nave. Daily services are held in a smaller area known as the medical bay. The cathedral’s “Treasures of the Crypt” exhibition is also closed.

Its six pipe organs have been affected by the smoke as well. They must be taken apart and cleaned before they can be returned to use. Until then, a rented substitute will have to do. “We are blessed to have use of the finest electronic organ available,” the cathedral notes.

The cathedral is expected to be fully restored by next year. Daniel told The New York Times last month that he hoped to have the stonework cleaned in time for Christmas 2019, and attention will then shift to the pipe organs. The congregation anticipates being able to resume its full St. Francis Day celebrations in October 2020.

That is a relatively short timeline compared to what the congregation endured after a fire in 2001. The six-alarm blaze a week before Christmas Eve burned through the timbered roof trusses, destroying the north transept and severely damaging the Great Organ.

The damage required extensive restoration work, and the cathedral wasn’t fully restored until 2008.

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

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Closer to Jesus of Nazareth: Q&A with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 4:48pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivers his Easter message for 2019. Photo: The Episcopal Church

[Anglican Journal] The Most Rev. Michael Curry is the 27th and current presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. Curry garnered international attention in 2018, when he preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. His animated sermon even inspired an homage by Kenan Thompson on “Saturday Night Live’s” “Weekend Update.”

The bishop sat down for an interview with the Anglican Journal during the meeting of Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod in Vancouver to speak about the health of the church, cross-border church relationships and his post-royal wedding fame. The interview has been edited for length.

Read the full article here.

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Connecticut diocese engages parishes in collaboration by replacing deaneries with region missionaries

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 3:51pm

The Rev. Erin Flinn (left), North Central Region missionary for The Episcopal Church in Connecticut, talks to participants during a “Wild Worship” outdoor Eucharist service on Aug. 21, 2019. Photo: The Episcopal Church in Connecticut

[Episcopal News Service] For many years, reorganizing church structure and governance to be more efficient and effective has been suggested as a way to adapt to the societal changes The Episcopal Church is contending with. But the record of progress toward that goal has been mixed, at least on a church-wide level.

The Episcopal Church in Connecticut has taken its own action on structural reform by replacing its 14 outdated deaneries – which were seen as outdated – with six regions, each served by a “region missionary” who fosters collaboration and engagement in the parishes of that region.

Two years after the first missionaries were hired, their positions have gone from part-time to full-time and the program has been hailed as a success.

“The people and the parishes have faithfully chosen to realize the truth that the church and the world is changing … and there’s only going to be more change afoot,” the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, bishop of Connecticut, told the Episcopal News Service. “And instead of licking our wounds or wallowing in loss and decline, the people of The Episcopal Church in Connecticut have said, ‘Let’s look forward in faith and try on new ways of being the body of Christ.’”

The traditional deanery model – which hadn’t been adjusted since 1984 – had become dysfunctional, diocesan leaders said. When asked what wasn’t working about the deanery model, the Rev. Timothy Hodapp, canon for mission collaboration, couldn’t help but laugh.

“We had 28 participating members in what was then called the diocesan Executive Council, so that was two representatives from each of the 14 deaneries,” Hodapp said. “And of those 14, three were actually on the ground, active, doing a lot of really great work. The others – it would go from doing great work on one end to not participating at all on the other, and then kind of middling in between those two extremes. And so you might have your council come together and barely get a quorum, and the work of the council was oftentimes rubber-stamping what bishops and canons had already done.”

Even though it was apparent to some in the diocese that the deaneries overall were not adding to the life of the church or the communities they served, it took a fresh set of eyes to make substantive changes in the oldest organized diocese in the United States. Douglas, who became diocesan bishop in 2010, was the first to be elected from outside the state since the diocese was created in 1784.

“So the Holy Spirit was up to something here in Connecticut as far as wanting change,” Douglas said.

“There’s been a tradition, particularly in Connecticut, that the diocese is embodied in the bishop and staff and diocesan structures,” he added. “What I’ve underscored in everything that we do is the diocese is not the bishop and staff and council and standing committee, etc. The diocese is the united witness of the 160 parishes in Connecticut.”

The need for a change started to become clear during the work of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church in 2013 and 2014. The task force, also known as TREC, eventually issued a report that recommended consolidating church governance structures. Some the most significant recommendations, such as a unicameral General Convention, still have not been adopted, but the task force’s work inspired the diocese to start its own task force in 2014.

“The good work that was begun by the general TREC initiative I think was too bold and too far-reaching for the whole church, which is why it really wasn’t picked up at General Convention,” Douglas said, “whereas we in Connecticut said, ‘Boy, sure makes sense to us. Why don’t we do it?’”

The TREC report inspired the “four C’s” that would eventually become the job description of the region missionaries: catalyze, connect, convene and build capability. Redrawing the deaneries into larger regions required the diocese to examine how each unique corner of the state has evolved over time, but it ultimately yielded a surprisingly familiar result.

“As we devised where these lines might be, to siphon off which chunks of villages are going to be in a region, we went back into the archives and we tried several different iterations,” Hodapp explained. “But following the trunk highways and the river valleys, etc., we parsed it, and it almost matched perfectly to 1843 archdeaconries; there were six of them. And here it was. So we returned to our legacy in a real sense.”

Along with consolidating the deaneries into regions and establishing the region missionaries, the diocesan task force also recommended abolishing all committees and commissions that are not canonically required. Those were replaced with “ministry networks,” but it’s not just a change in terminology; in keeping with the spirit of the task force, these new groups are organized from the bottom up, not from the top down. If any group of Episcopalians wants to act together on a particular issue, they can form a ministry network and get support from the diocese.

“There’s no application for recognition, there’s no canonical authorization; just do it,” Douglas said. “And if people say, ‘Well, how do we do the work, say, in prisons? Where’s the diocesan committee on prison ministry?’ We say, ‘go and do it. Organize yourself. You don’t have to wait for us to give you authority. You have the baptismal authority you need.’”

Two teams of about 30 people worked on the topic over the course of two years, Hodapp said, and when they put every committee and commission up on a wall, they realized what had to be done.

“What’s common to all of this?” Hodapp said. “And why do we have it established as a group that needs to be meeting with Robert’s Rules of Order and taking notes when we need to be more flexible, and we need to network differently, and we need to be in a world that has changed completely around us?”

Each region gathers for a convocation at least once a year, during which they select one lay person and one clergy member to serve on the diocesan Mission Council – which replaced the Executive Council – along with a representative from each ministry network.

The task force’s plan was adopted enthusiastically at the 2015 diocesan convention, and the region missionaries were the last piece to be implemented, with the first cohort of three priests and three lay people being hired in 2017. Their task, Douglas said, is not to be a stopgap to help keep struggling churches in business, although they do play an important role in the 67 percent of parishes without full-time clergy. Their task is to rethink how the churches operate in their communities, Hodapp says.

“Who else needs to be at the table? And that doesn’t mean just Episcopalians. But who are our allies within this village or these three villages? How do we really engage the neighborhood in a meaningful way, for what it needs for right now?” Hodapp said.

Maggie Breen, the missionary for the sparsely populated Northeast Region, spends each Sunday at one of the region’s 16 parishes, and every Sunday is different.

“I have been bringing a map of the town” in which each parish is situated, Breen told ENS. “And I’ll indicate where the parish is in the town and I’ll ask people to think about the town and tell me what things have they noticed that break their heart and what things have they noticed that really bring them joy, and we map those out, and then we brainstorm. What could we do about any of those?”

One of Breen’s accomplishments in her region is a lay preaching class, which had previously been done in the Northwest Region. She also organizes a series of “Crafting as a Spiritual Practice” days, in which participants – including members of other churches – connect over their hobbies and their faith.

The North Central Region’s missionary, the Rev. Erin Flinn, has organized a film and conversation series on racial justice and is working to connect wardens from different parishes so they can feel supported and share their experiences. She also is focusing on enabling parishioners to start mission work on their own.

“If you have a call, go do something,” Flinn said. “One of the things that I think the region [model] is great for is if you have a call to go and do something, but you don’t want to do it by yourself, contact me. Let me know what you’re doing. I guarantee there’s somebody else in the region that is doing the same thing.”

Flinn, who was ordained to the transitional diaconate in June, said the regional model has been particularly beneficial to the small parishes, helping them join forces and accomplish more together.

“We have several small parishes that are now collaborating in new ways,” Flinn said. “The mentality of regions and networks has really been a lifeline to our smaller communities that don’t have a lot of resources and only have half-time or quarter-time clergy.”

The regional missionaries have organized and facilitated mission trips, spiritual hikes, communication workshops, garden projects, book groups and more, and they also serve as a liaison between parishes and the diocese.

“I spend a lot of time trying to build relationships,” Breen said. “I frequently act as a sort of bridge between what’s happening at the ground level in the parish and then what’s happening at the diocesan house, bringing information from [the diocese] into the parishes, and then also bringing interesting things are happening the parishes up to [the diocese].”

Breen and Flinn were both in the original cohort of missionaries who started in 2017. After their two-year contract expired, three continued as full-time missionaries, while the other three chose not to stay and were replaced by new hires.

View this post on Instagram

The three new RMs recorded for @coffeehourpod this morning! Be on the lookout for the podcast next week. #episcopal #episcopalct #ecct #southwestecct #regionmissionary

A post shared by ECCT Southwest Region (@southwestecct) on Jul 2, 2019 at 12:07pm PDT

Hodapp says the diocese has gotten queries from other dioceses interested in their structural reforms. He says his vision for the future of the regions and the region missionaries is “to be open-minded, and to see where God is going to take us. To fan into flame what’s working, to fan into flame experiments, trying things on, watching things happen and fall apart, figure out what worked and what didn’t.”

“What I’m learning,” Flinn said, “is that our churches are actually doing more than we realize. We just [weren’t] good at telling each other what we’re doing. … That was the biggest discovery.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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Presiding Bishop fields faith questions from Reddit users in ‘Ask Me Anything’ session

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 12:58pm

[Episcopal News Service] He may have preached at a royal wedding, but he’s never committed himself to answering whatever questions the users of the social network Reddit might throw at him – until now.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spent the afternoon of Oct. 10 participating in his first “Ask Me Anything,” a popular Reddit feature that goes by the shorthand AMA. The idea behind the AMA session is for a person of some renown or import – from Bill Gates to a local TV weatherman – to mingle with the average Reddit user and take any and all questions. Curry’s AMA can be found on the r/Christianity subreddit.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry holds a sign promoting his Oct. 10 “Ask Me Anything” session on the social network Reddit.

“Looking forward to talking all things Episcopal Church, The Way of Love, Jesus Movement, and perhaps a little bit about that wedding,” Curry said in his introduction.

Attached was a photo of Curry holding a sign that read, “Hello Reddit!” In the corner of the sign was a hand-drawn depiction of Reddit’s alien mascot, Snoo, dressed in bishop garb.

Over about an hour and a half, the session generated 145 comments between Curry and his questioners. The questions touched on topics that included evangelism, devotional practices, preaching style, theological education, the Episcopal tradition and denominational decline.

“I find it helpful to remember that we are first of all not a religious institution. That we are first of all participants in the movement that Jesus began in the first century,” Curry said. “And that movement of Jesus – a movement of people that gathered around him and his movement of love – that movement has been an underground movement in the first century. … It may well be now that we have returned to being an underground movement again. And that’s okay, because our way is not the way of the world. It is the way of the crucified and risen One.”

The “Ask Me Anything” coincided with the release of new episodes in the second season of The Episcopal Church’s “Way of Love” podcast featuring Curry, according to Jeremy Tackett, Episcopal Church digital evangelist.

“We’ve been working for the past few months to find an opportunity for the presiding bishop to interact with the Reddit /r/Christianity community,” Tackett told Episcopal News Service. “They’re an active group, and we knew there would be great questions and a chance to reach beyond our normal Episcopalian audience.”

Some Reddit users asked Curry about his own spiritual growth.

“How has your relationship with Jesus changed over the years?” asked a user who goes by Ay_Theos_Meo. “How is your spiritual life different from your early days as Christian (if it is different at all)?”

“I have to admit that one of the things that really has changed is that Jesus really has a way of broadening my worldview and perspective rather than constricting and limiting it,” Curry responded, in part.

Another user asked whom Curry would like to meet to discuss faith. “Of course the answer is Jesus,” Curry said. He also added German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader in the civil rights movement.

Other questions were more lighthearted, and Curry was willing to play along.

lindsey7606: “Bishop Curry, what’s your favorite corny bible joke?”

PBCurry: “Old preachers never die, they just go out to pastor!”

And at a few points the “Ask Me Anything” session turned personal. One user mentioned being baptized and confirmed by Curry when he was bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina. Another Reddit user, Tepid_Radical_Reform, told Curry that many years ago Curry’s wife worked with the user’s mother at a bank in Cincinnati, and the mother also baby-sat Curry’s daughter.

“So, important question: Do you love Cincinnati Skyline Chili?” Tepid_Radical_Reform asked.

“I do,” Curry responded. “Especially when I’m not dieting!’

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

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RIP: Former Springfield Bishop Peter Beckwith dies at 80

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 2:27pm

The Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith. Photo: Diocese of Springfield

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith, who served as bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois from 1992 to 2010, died on Oct. 4 at the age of 80, according to the diocese. In addition to his ministry as bishop, Beckwith served as a chaplain for the U.S. Naval Reserve, Hillsdale College, the Illinois State Police, and a Michigan prison. In 2014, he left The Episcopal Church to join the Anglican Church in North America, becoming an assisting bishop in their Diocese of the Great Lakes.

Read the Diocese of Springfield’s obituary for Beckwith here.

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Service celebrating new saint seals bond between her congregation and church that took her name

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 1:16pm

Zora Nobles, left, and her cousin, Dwala Nobles, present relics of St. Anna Alexander at a service Oct. 6 at Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church in Antioch, California. Photo: Kazuhiro “Kaz” Tsuruta

[Episcopal News Service] A California congregation named for one of The Episcopal Church’s newest saints, St. Anna Alexander, celebrated its namesake at a Sunday worship service that included a visit from two members of the church that Alexander helped establish in Pennick, Georgia.

Dwala Nobles, 59, and Zora Nobles, 65, cousins and longtime members of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Pennick, brought with them century-old relics from Alexander’s work at the church and its school, including Alexander’s Book of Common Prayer. On Oct. 6, Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church in Antioch, California, welcomed them as the congregation celebrated Alexander’s legacy as the only black Episcopal deaconess.

“It was almost like coming home,” Dwala Nobles told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview the day after the service. “We felt like we were home among family and friends.”

Saint Anna’s, the first Episcopal church to be named after an African American woman, was formed in March through the merger of two former congregations, St. George’s in Antioch and St. Alban’s in Brentwood in the Diocese of California. Alexander had only a year earlier been confirmed as a saint in The Episcopal Church, when General Convention in July 2018 voted to add her and her feast day, Sept. 24, to the church’s calendar of saints.

Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander was born in 1985 to recently freed slaves and died in 1947. She ministered in rural Georgia, focusing on the education of poor black children. Photo: Diocese of Georgia

Alexander was born in 1865 and died in 1947, and she spent much of her adult life ministering to poor black residents of Glynn and McIntosh counties, particularly through education. She became a deaconess in 1907 in an era before the church allowed women as priests or deacons. Among those she taught at Good Shepherd were Dwala Nobles’ father and her cousin’s father.

Among the items they brought with them to California were Alexander’s hymnal from 1878 and a Sunday school ledger from the early 20th century. Some of the materials include Alexander’s handwritten notes on teaching methods.

“St. Anna was indeed the persistent force encouraging and urging her students to aim high,” the Rev. Jennifer Nelson, a deacon in the Diocese of California, said in her sermon for the Oct. 6 service. She is originally from Guyana and said Alexander reminded her of the caring teachers who encouraged her in her education.

“She had God’s blessing as she continued to forge onward, blazing a path that gives us a window that now shows us the courage and tenacity she would need to overcome the bigotry and discrimination in her time.”

During the service, Alexander’s Book of Common Prayer and other relics were placed on the altar. The cousins from Alexander’s Georgia church presented the congregation at Saint Anna’s with a framed picture of Alexander that was propped against the altar. Saint Anna’s reciprocated by giving Dwala Nobles and Zora Nobles a silver chalice that had been used by one of the two congregations that merged to form the new church.

St. Anna Alexander’s relics, including her Book of Common Prayer and hymnal, are placed on the altar during a service Oct. 6 at Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church. Photo: Kazuhiro “Kaz” Tsuruta

A video of the service was shared on the church’s Facebook page.

Alexander was “imbuing us with her spirit,” the Rev. Jill Honodel, the congregation’s long-term supply priest, told ENS. She described it as an emotional and joyous day, centered around highlighting the life and works of an Episcopal saint who is only beginning to receive the full recognition she deserves.

“It felt like together, from coast to coast, we are taking what has been hidden and invisible all these years and we have the privilege and the honor of revealing it,” Honodel said.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who visited Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in January 2018, also addressed those gathered at Saint Anna’s, through a brief video he recorded for the service. He alluded to a resource center established by Saint Anna’s.

“I rejoice in the fact that you, Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church, have focused on the needs of children and families in your community with a resource center for children and families,” Curry said. “That indeed is God’s work. That indeed is the work of Anna Alexander, deaconess of The Episcopal Church.”

Honodel and other local leaders spent the following day showing their two visitors from Georgia around the San Francisco Bay area, including a sightseeing stop at the Golden Gate Bridge. They were scheduled to return home with Alexander’s relics on Oct. 8.

“It was just really critical that we come for this. We know this is just the beginning of the relationship,” Dwala Nobles said.

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

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California Bishop Marc Andrus recovering from stroke

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 10:44am

Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus participates in the People’s Climate March on April 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Marc Andrus via Twitter

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, bishop of the Diocese of California, is recovering after suffering a stroke at his office in San Francisco office on Oct. 7, according to the diocese.

Andrus, 62, had an ischemic stroke, in which a clot blocks blood flow in the brain, and received acute stroke therapies, the Rev. Abbott Bailey, the diocese’s canon to the ordinary, wrote in an email.

“He is now awake, alert, communicating well, and the news is encouraging,” Bailey wrote.

To allow Andrus’s family to focus on his health, Bailey requested that any communication be directed through her. Bailey also asked for prayers for Andrus; his wife, Sheila; their daughters, Chloé and Pilar; and the medical personnel.

“The family is immensely grateful for your love and support,” Bailey wrote. “As Sheila said, ‘He’s a tough Tennessee boy.’”

Andrus, a Tennessee native, was consecrated in 2006 as bishop of the Diocese of California, which encompasses the San Francisco Bay Area.

Andrus is a leading Episcopal voice on creation care issues and the fight against climate change. He has led several Episcopal delegations representing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at global climate summits, and last month he was one of the bishops who organized a demonstration at the House of Bishops meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in solidarity with the youth-led climate strikes around the world on Sept. 20.

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Video: Presiding Bishop brings the Way of Love to London audience

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 12:29pm

[Episcopal News Service – London, U.K.] Punctuated by laughter and rousing applause, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry addressed a capacity crowd of 2,200 people at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, on Oct. 3, bringing a message of how love is the only thing that has the power to change the world.

Hosted by Paula Gooder, chancellor of St. Paul’s, Curry spoke for 90 minutes as part of the cathedral’s adult learning series about the importance of the Jesus Movement and God’s dream for the world and humankind.

Earlier, the presiding bishop joined a conversation with the Ven. Liz Adekunle, archdeacon of Hackney and chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II, about issues of racial justice in the U.K. and the U.S.

The event launched an initiative by St. Paul’s Institute – a forum for reflection, debate and education – that will investigate themes of justice, power and race in 21st century Britain, listening to the experiences of those directly affected by asymmetrical race dynamics. The project will convene a 24-month task force that will produce a report proposing concrete policy recommendations for improving the access of black Britons into positions of leadership and power in all sectors of U.K. society.

On Oct. 2, Curry addressed an audience at Canterbury Cathedral about the power of music and how the songs his grandmother sang sowed a seed that influenced his faith journey and paved his pathway toward ordination. Full coverage here.

– Matthew MacDonald is associate editor of the Episcopal News Service.

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Archbishop Welby expresses vision for Anglican Communion at East Asian Anglican meeting

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 12:13pm

Archbishop Justin Welby addresses the Council of the Church in East Asia. Photo: ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglican primates, bishops, clergy and laity from provinces in East Asia heard the archbishop of Canterbury give a powerful vision for the ministry of the Anglican Communion on Oct. 4. Archbishop Justin Welby made the comments during an address at the triennial Full Assembly meeting of the Council of the Church in East Asia (CCEA), which is taking place in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, East Malaysia. In his address, Welby spoke of the potential and capacity of the Anglican Communion to work for transformation in the world.

The CCEA brings together Anglican churches in Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam, as well as Australia and Japan.

Read the full article here.

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Neil Gorsuch’s ‘hero’ uncle was a progressive Episcopal priest on a winding spiritual path

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 11:55am

The Rev. Jack Gorsuch, shown at left in a photo from a 2017 memorial service bulletin, was called “a hero of mine” by his nephew, Neil Gorsuch, at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Justice Gorsuch is shown in a Reuters photo.

[Episcopal News Service] Facing the 20 U.S. senators who stood between him and a seat on the nation’s highest court, the nominee introduced himself by reading a statement that identified five men as his personal heroes. Four of those men were sitting or former Supreme Court justices. The fifth was an Episcopal priest – the Rev. John Gorsuch, the nominee’s late uncle.

“We recently lost my Uncle Jack, a hero of mine,” Judge Neil Gorsuch said in the 16-minute opening statement of his confirmation hearing on March 20, 2017. Before continuing, he paused to look over his right shoulder at Meg Hopkins, his cousin and Jack Gorsuch’s daughter, who was seated behind him with other family members.

“He gave the benediction when I took an oath as a judge 11 years ago. I confess I was hoping he might offer a similar prayer soon.”

Judge Neil Gorsuch reads an opening statement on March 20, 2017, during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Photo: White House via video

News articles at the time of Gorsuch’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court noted that he, his wife and their two daughters regularly attended services at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado, which The Washington Post described as “a notably liberal church.” Since his confirmation as an associate justice on April 7, 2017, Gorsuch has earned a reputation as a reliable member of the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc.

Gorsuch begins his third full term on the Supreme Court on Oct. 7, but since his nomination, little has been reported about the uncle he remembered fondly at his confirmation hearing. The nephew’s high-profile shoutout only hinted at the breadth of the uncle’s winding 85-year spiritual journey.

“My father was a big, expansive thinker, so within that there was room for a lot,” Hopkins, who lives in Mequon, Wisconsin, said in an interview with Episcopal News Service about her father. “He was a progressive person,” she said, but that created no distance between him and Hopkins’ more conservative cousin.

“Neil and my dad loved each other very much, and it didn’t make any difference what their political views were,” she said.

Jack Gorsuch, who died just a month before his nephew’s confirmation hearing, was a Yale Divinity School graduate and runner-up in 1975 for bishop of the Diocese of Olympia. He led his congregation in Seattle, Washington, through the city’s racial upheaval in the 1970s, championed the ordination of women and later quit parish life to open a spirituality and meditation center with his wife, Beverly Gorsuch, a psychotherapist.

The Rev. Jana Troutman Miller and the Rev. Jack Gorsuch pose for a photo at an event at St. John’s on the Lake, a retirement community where the two Episcopal priests collaborated on a spirituality group for residents. Photo courtesy of Jana Troutman Miller

Even in his final years, Jack Gorsuch remained active in religious ministry. Living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at an Episcopal retirement community, Gorsuch partnered with the staff chaplain to start a spirituality group for residents.

“He was just a great guy. He was just very sweet and gentle, had a really great sense of humor,” the Rev. Jana Troutman Miller, chaplain at St. John’s on the Lake, told ENS. Gorsuch made many friends there in just over two years, she said. “He was just one of those personalities that attracted a lot of people. A lot of those folks went to him for spiritual advice.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who declined an interview for this story, recently published a book, “A Republic, If You Can Keep it,” about his judicial philosophy and the importance of civil discourse in American public life. He has avoided speaking publicly about his faith and spiritual background.

“People would view that as me tacitly admitting it has something to do with my day job, and I reject that,” Gorsuch said in an interview with a Wall Street Journal editorial board member. He acknowledged, though, that faith is “a great reservoir of strength for me. I need it, as a person.”

His uncle, on the other hand, left little written record of his political views but spoke openly of his faith – from the pulpit, during contemplative prayer gatherings, at the spiritual development center he co-founded, in written messages to fellow Yale Divinity alumni and in his 1990 book, “An Invitation to the Spiritual Journey.”

The book was a primer on looking inward for God’s presence, but Gorsuch briefly turned his focus outward.

“At our best in contemporary America we are attuned to a spirit of warm generosity and openness of spirit that makes room for great diversity and welcomes the best efforts of all citizens to better themselves. At our worst attunement is wolfish,” Gorsuch wrote. “Each part of the larger whole undertakes only its own gain.”

Parish priest in a time of change

The Rev. Jack Gorsuch is seen in an undated photo from his 17 years as rector of Epiphany Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington. Photo: Epiphany Episcopal Church

A news article in 1985 described Gorsuch as “a lanky, relaxed father of two.” In portraits at various ages, his appearance is virtually unchanged: round glasses, white clergy collar, his hair parted loosely into a wave, a welcoming smile bubbling from a reservoir of optimism.

Neil Gorsuch, a native of Denver, Colorado, says in the introduction to his book that his life’s story “has its roots in the American West.” The same could be said for his uncle.

Jack Gorsuch was born Feb. 1, 1932, in Denver, the oldest of four children. Their father, the elder John Gorsuch, drove a trolley to pay his way through college before opening a law firm. “He cared deeply about his community and he showed it,” Neil Gorsuch wrote of his grandfather. “By his example, he taught me to care about my community, work hard, and make the time we have here count – and to be sure to laugh a lot along the way.”

Jack Gorsuch, older brother of Neil Gorsuch’s father, attended public schools in Denver before moving to Connecticut to attend Wesleyan University. He was president of his fraternity and in 1953 earned a bachelor’s degree in intellectual history. In 1956, he graduated from Yale Divinity and was ordained a priest by Washington Bishop Angus Dun at Washington National Cathedral. Parish work followed, in Washington, D.C., and Kansas.

A Diocese of Olympia newsletter features an article about the Rev. Jack Gorsuch being called as rector of Epiphany Episcopal Church in Seattle in 1968. Photo: Diocese of Olympia

In 1963, he was called to serve as rector of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Yakima, Washington, a midsize city southeast of Seattle in the mostly rural Diocese of Spokane, and within a few years he was one of 55 candidates vying for rector at the larger Epiphany Episcopal Church in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood bordering Lake Washington.

“This is a time when the foundations are shaking all about us,” Gorsuch wrote in a brief essay submitted to Epiphany along with his biographical details, yet parish ministry remained to him an “indispensable tool of God,” specifically for worship, formation, pastoral care and outreach. He added that congregations may need to rethink their claims to a mere “spectator” role in society.

“What about the role of the parish church in revolutionary times like ours?” he continued. “The job of the parish clergyman today, as I see it, is neither to be a milquetoast nor a brash martyr, but, wherever possible, a prophetic spokesman for God and a sensitive servant of people.”

Epiphany welcomed Gorsuch as its new rector at a ceremony in October 1968. The church and priest “were soon venturing into new liturgical, theological and cultural territory,” Barbara Stenson Spaeth, a longtime member of Epiphany, wrote in her 2007 centennial history of the parish. A decade later, she wrote of his influence in a memorial tribute for the church’s newsletter. “The Rev. John P. Gorsuch, witty, innovative and progressive, undoubtedly transformed Madrona’s Epiphany Church, and in significant ways, the wider Episcopal Church in our city and region.”

Epiphany in 1968 lay on the fault line of redlined housing segregation in Seattle, Spaeth told ENS. That divide fueled increasing tensions in the late 1960s and early 1970s between the racially diverse Madrona neighborhood to the south and the primarily white Denny-Blaine neighborhood to the north.

Gorsuch “was, in this community, a leader in civil rights advocacy and racial integration,” Spaeth said. He visited with residents at their homes, listening to white neighbors who felt wary of integration and listening to black neighbors who said they didn’t feel welcomed at Epiphany.

He invited them all to the church.

Gorsuch also oversaw the congregation’s decision to separate from its adjoining private school, which had become a magnet for children from affluent white families who weren’t Epiphany members. He developed connections with the interreligious faith community in Seattle. He rallied the congregation together in the wake of a 1975 arson attack on the church, which luckily sustained little more than smoke damage in the fire.

And on Feb. 3, 1977, he preached at Epiphany during the ordination of the Rev. Laura Fraser, the first female priest in the Diocese of Olympia. The service drew intense media coverage and was remembered as “one of the ‘happenings of the 1970s’” in Seattle, according to the Post-Intelligencer. Fraser had “created a sensation.”

Opponents of women’s ordination held a rival service across town on the same day. At General Convention the previous year, Olympia Bishop Robert Cochrane had voted against the resolution that paved the way for women to become priests,  but he still agreed to preside at Fraser’s ordination. More than 50 clergy members from around the country attended, and the service was seen as “a real victory,” one of those priests recalled in 2002.

In championing such issues, Spaeth suggested Gorsuch was ahead of his time. “In his day, in that era, which was so transformative and so full of change for the city, he was definitely on what anyone would call a progressive track,” she said. “The character of the church today, at least in our part of the world, matches what Jack would have wanted.”

‘I took an inward turn’

Later in life, Gorsuch looked back on that time and noted he was growing disillusioned with career ambitions within the church – a “good midlife crisis” brought on by a lost bishop election.

A diocesan publication includes the Rev. Jack Gorsuch’s responses to a questionnaire in 1975 when he was a candidate for bishop of the diocese. Photo: Diocese of Olympia

“Moving into the episcopacy seemed to me like the outcome of a fairly fast run up the church chairs,” he wrote in “Invitation to the Spiritual Journey.” In 1975, he and Cochrane were finalists to lead the Diocese of Olympia, but Cochrane, then rector of Christ Church in Tacoma and chaplain to the city’s police department, was seen as a more conservative candidate. Cochrane won on the eighth ballot.

The loss was a humbling blow to Gorsuch. His parish, though sympathetic, was glad to have him for a few more years.

“He should have been our bishop, but we are grateful he stayed our rector,” Spaeth told ENS.

Just six months later he again was a finalist for bishop, this time in the Diocese of Indianapolis, but Gorsuch never made it to the ballot there. One night he dreamed he was being vested in a cope and miter, but they suddenly went up in smoke, revealing a baby bathed in light. He called up the search committee the next day and withdrew from consideration.

“I took an inward turn, and I’ve been on an inner journey ever since,” Gorsuch said years later in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story. In his book, Gorsuch gave a longer explanation for his inward turn, saying he felt guilty that he was letting his daily routine and personal ambitions distract him from cultivating a deeper relationship with God.

“I was someone who had gotten too busy for God,” he said. “I had taught courses on the spiritual life and prayer in adult education classes with some success, but my own spiritual life was underdeveloped,” he said. He began reading and rereading books by those “who had taken the spiritual journey another step,” from St. Teresa of Avila to Thomas Merton.

By 1981, his spiritual exploration was reflected in a biographical message he wrote for the 25th anniversary of his Yale class. “I’ve gone much deeper into prayer and meditation, and have increasingly found that God is much more than a theological premise or ‘sometime reality,’” he said. “At the same time exciting things are going on in this parish.”

He concluded, “I’m not terribly optimistic about everything that’s happening in the American scene right now, but I am increasingly aware of the grace of God. It’s a tough and glorious time to be alive.”

President Ronald Reagan had just taken office and appointed Gorsuch’s sister-in-law, Anne Gorsuch, as EPA administrator. The job required her to move her family, including her 13-year-old son, Neil Gorsuch, from Colorado to Washington, D.C. The teen’s parents divorced a year later. Anne Gorsuch, shortly after remarrying, resigned from the EPA in 1983 amid a scandal related to her ties to chemical companies.

The year 1983 was pivotal for Jack Gorsuch. He was granted a sabbatical, during which he visited a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico, studied deep meditation at a spiritual community in California and trained as a spiritual director at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, D.C.

In his final two years at Epiphany, he was leading two contemplative prayer groups, as well as a “God 202” class for new and returning church members. In 1985, he resigned as rector, and he and Beverly Gorsuch opened the Center for Spiritual Development in rented space on the St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral’s campus.

The Rev. Jack Gorsuch participates in the October 2014 ordination ceremony for the Rev. Jana Troutman Miller at St. John’s on the Lake in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Jana Troutman Miller

“I think they always defined themselves as Episcopalians,” Hopkins said of her parents, but they became more interested in “helping others in the inner journey” than in their own professional advancement.

The ecumenical, nonprofit spiritual center was “designed to help people explore, deepen and affirm the place of God in their lives without underestimating the challenges along the way,” according to the center’s introductory brochure. For more than five years, the Gorsuches led classes and retreats at the center. In 1991, they handed over the reins to a new executive director, the Rev. Jerry Hanna, a fellow Episcopal priest.

Hanna, now 80, is vicar of St. David Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Shoreline, Washington. In an interview, he said, the center rode the waves of broader trends in American spirituality.

“We were in kind of a descending peak of the New Age movement, which involved a lot of esoteric, and what we could say, semimystical experiences and teachings, so it was really a hotbed of those kinds of spiritualities which were proliferating all over the country,” Hanna said. He remained at the center for nearly three decades, until it closed this year.

Hanna told ENS he had been trained in the transcendental meditation tradition, while “Jack was a traditionalist, in the sense that he attached himself first to centering prayer and teaching spiritual direction.”

In his forward to Gorsuch’s 1990 book, Gerald May wrote Gorsuch was grounded his spiritual teachings in theology, scripture, psychology and “a realistic appraisal of the graces and confusions of modern daily life.” Gorsuch had studied with May at the Shalem Institute, where May served as spiritual director.

“His journey has inspired mine as I have seen him claim and act upon his desire to seek a deeper and more direct conscious relationship with God, and to help others do the same,” wrote May.

‘More to learn, more to grow’

Gorusch’s 17 years at Epiphany spanned nearly the entire childhood of his nephew, the future Supreme Court justice, and Neil Gorsuch’s subsequent college years and professional life coincided with his uncle’s spiritual journey beyond The Episcopal Church.

Neil Gorsuch, who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1988 and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991. He worked as a law clerk to a federal appeals court judge just as Jack Gorsuch was stepping away from the Center for Spiritual Development.

In 1996, he married Marie Louise Burleston, a British graduate student he had met while working on his doctorate at Oxford University. Louise, as she is known, grew up in the Church of England, and when the Gorsuches returned to the United States together, they became members of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Vienna, Virginia, according to a CNN report on Gorsuch’s faith background.

While Neil Gorsuch lived in Virginia and clerked for  Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy before venturing into private law practice, Jack and Beverly Gorsuch spent eight years living at an ashram in California focused on East-West spirituality.

Both of Neil Gorsuch’s parents died in the early years of the new century, before he began working for the Department of Justice in 2005. With his parents gone, Gorsuch’s bond with his uncle strengthened, Hopkins said. “Neil and my dad were just personally super close, had just a really sweet, personal relationship,” she said.

Appellate Court Judge Neil Gorsuch reacts to comments made by speakers at a swearing-in ceremony Nov. 20, 2006 in Denver. Also pictured are his daughter, Emma; his wife, Louise, and his uncle, the Rev. Jack Gorsuch. Photo: Ken Papaleo/Rocky Mountain News via Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

On Nov. 20, 2006, when Jack Gorsuch spoke at the swearing-in ceremony in Denver for newly confirmed 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch, the Denver Post reported the event was “a family affair.”

By then, Jack and Beverly Gorsuch had settled in Bellingham, Washington, to be near their older daughter, Anne Gorsuch, who lived in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The best way to sum up what’s going on for me at this point is to say I seem to be a guy who is getting clearer about what it means to wake up,” the former parish priest wrote in 2006 for his 50th Yale class anniversary, and he praised his wife as “an incredible partner, insightful and as spiritually intentional as anybody I know.”

In 2014, with Beverly Gorsuch suffering from dementia, she and her husband moved to Milwaukee, where she still lives, just a few miles south of her daughter.

Hopkins said being at St. John’s on the Lake in his final years boosted her father’s spirits. He became fast friends with Miller, the chaplain, and participated in her ordination ceremony that October. In 2016, during his final year, they collaborated on a “saging” group, in which 10 or so people gathered to discuss spiritual questions related to aging.

Miller said Gorsuch was personally exploring the same questions for himself.

“Being in his 80s, he was very much looking at what comes next and the experience of continual learning and growth that happens after death,” Miller said. “He was convinced that it doesn’t just stop, the learning and growth doesn’t just stop with death, but there’s more to learn, more to grow.”

Beverly and Jack Gorsuch are all smiles during a gathering at St. John’s on the Lake, a retirement community where they moved in 2014. Photo: Jana Troutman Miller

When President Donald Trump announced on Jan. 31, 2017, he was nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the family greeted the news with pride, and on a group call with family members, “the pastor joked that some of the people on the line were Democrats,” according to CNN.

The nomination became a topic of conversation around St. John’s on the Lake only because residents made the connection between the name making headlines and their friend, the Episcopal priest, Miller said. He would hint that his politics didn’t neatly align with his nephew’s politics, but “he was gracious to his nephew,” she said.

The service bulletin from a May 20, 2017, memorial service at Epiphany Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington, features this undated photo of the Rev. Jack Gorsuch.

Jack Gorsuch, 85, died on Feb. 15, 2017, two weeks after his nephew’s nomination to the Supreme Court. A funeral service was held at St. John’s on the Lake’s chapel, and three months later, in Seattle, Epiphany celebrated Gorsuch’s life in a memorial service. His two daughters and a former clergy colleague gave eulogies.

One of the readings was from Gorsuch’s own book: “The place to start with the spiritual journey, when with the help of trust we move beyond our stuck places, is with ourselves before a God who takes us where and as we are. There is no other place to begin. We are who we are. We are no less and no more farther along the path than at this moment. This is great ‘good news.’”

Hopkins, 57, said her father’s death likely was still fresh on the mind of Neil Gorsuch as he sat one month later for his confirmation hearing, one reason he gave a nod to the uncle in his opening statement.

Jack Gorsuch may not be alive to speak at his nephew’s swearing-in ceremony for the Supreme Court, but “as it is, I know he is smiling,” his nephew said.

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

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Grandma’s songs set overture to Presiding Bishop’s faith journey

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 12:47pm

[Episcopal News Service – Canterbury, U.K.] As a child, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry would listen intently as his grandma sang hymns at the kitchen sink.

Familiar tunes gave meaning to holy words. Even in her darkest moments of despair, as her daughter lay dying in hospital following a brain hemorrhage at 44, Grandma Nellie Strayhorn would sing.

As she prepared dinner for the family, those melodious interludes would sow an important seed for the 14-year-old Curry, feeding his love of music and ultimately influencing his journey along the Jesus Movement.

“That memory of her singing those songs imprinted itself profoundly on me,” Curry told an audience gathered at Canterbury Cathedral’s Clagett Auditorium on Oct. 2. “Thinking about it now, I realize she was singing those songs, cooking food for her grandchildren and her son-in-law, while her own daughter was in a coma … [I thought] any woman who has figured out how to do that in that set of circumstances knows something that I want to know about this Gospel, this Jesus, about this God.”

Curry later told ENS that the power of music is multilayered, and these particular songs in the midst of sorrow were clearly meditative. They brought healing and strength, not just for grandma, but for the whole family.

The Very Rev. Robert Willis, dean of Canterbury Cathedral, hosts Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for an Oct. 2 conversation about the importance of music and the songs his grandma sang. Photo: Adrian Smith/Canterbury Cathedral

Invoking a West African saying, “Without a song, the Gods will not descend,” Curry told his Canterbury audience, “There’s something about song that speaks on multivalent levels in us. And sometimes the song, the hymn, can reach down in crevasses deep down inside of us, that words by themselves don’t necessarily reach … It has the power to evoke something. It is like some music can speak to the soul.”

The Very Rev. Robert Willis, dean of Canterbury Cathedral and a music composer, hosted the conversation with Curry. He pointed out that the sermons you remember “are few and far between, but the hymns are actually embedded in your head and heart.”

Following the success of Curry’s book Crazy Christians, Church Publishing Inc. encouraged the presiding bishop to write another book. CPI’s Vice President for Editorial Nancy Bryan told Curry she had noticed that whenever he preached he would often quote a hymn. “When I looked back at my sermons, I realized there was a pattern to them and many of the hymns I was quoting were actually the hymns that grandma used to sing,” he said.

This realization led to the 2015 publication of Songs My Grandma Sang, which provided the theme for the Canterbury event.

Many of the hymns Curry references in his book – such as Just As I Am Without A Plea; Amazing Grace; Just As I Feel Discouraged; I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me; I Come To the Garden Alone – had been an integral part of U.S. culture, particularly in the southern states.

Curry’s father was an Episcopal priest and his grandma was a “rock-ribbed” Baptist, “so I grew up with those two very different worlds in one sense, but at their deeper level very similar, and that has formed me as much as anything.”

Growing up in Buffalo, New York, Curry said that his father was active in the civil rights movement and remembers a series of meetings with black preachers of various denominations that he later realized had been the planning for the buses that would transport them to join the March on Washington in 1963.

“So I grew up in this world that was really about making the world and life something closer to God’s vision and God’s dream for all of us,” he said.

The songs and sayings that pervaded the lives of Curry’s grandma and her generation – who lived through the Jim Crow years of enforced racial segregation – “reflected a deep faith and profound wisdom that taught them how to shout ‘glory’ while cooking in ‘sorrow’s kitchen,’ as they used to say,” Curry writes in the first chapter. “In this there was a hidden treasure that saw many of them through, and that is now a spiritual inheritance for those of us who have come after them. That treasure was a sung faith expressing a way of being in relationship with the living God of Jesus that was real, energizing, sustaining, loving, liberating, and life-giving.”

Curry recalled hearing Andrew Young Jr., a leader in the civil rights movement and a close confidant to Martin Luther King Jr., say that there would have been no movement had they not had songs. “What I think he was saying was that something had to keep people marching when they were scared to death,” Curry said. “It’s sort of like a mantra, something that you can keep singing that can keep you focused and then you can handle whatever is coming at you … When cultures stop singing, something is missing.”

Willis acknowledged that Amazing Grace, with text by English priest and abolitionist John Newton, is one of the few hymns or songs that is widely known throughout the Anglican Communion. But he recently learned that the text of the final verse, which begins “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining like the sun” actually came from the southern U.S. around the time of the American Civil War. According to sources, the verse was written by American abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe. “It was written as a verse of hope…but it’s a nice thing to think that the two cultures came together in that one hymn,” Willis said.

Even in the most tragic circumstances, music has the power to uplift and regenerate.

Curry remembers reading a speech from the director of the New England Conservatory of Music, who told his freshman students not to think about music as a frivolous add on to life. The music director was in New York when 9/11 happened, and said he saw a city silenced. “The first sign of life was when the symphony [orchestra] played music and people sang,” Curry quoted him as saying. “Don’t think music is a frivolous thing. It speaks to the soul.”

Similarly, Willis said he was moved by seeing people singing and lighting candles in Paris as Notre Dame was ablaze.

The Canterbury event marked the first time Curry had been invited to speak publicly about his book, Songs My Grandma Sang. He told ENS that it was a special moment to be able to reflect on her indomitable faith and profound influence that paved his pathway towards ordination.

The Very Rev. Robert Willis, dean of Canterbury Cathedral, hosts Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for an Oct. 2 conversation about the importance of music and the songs his grandma sang. Photo: Adrian Smith/Canterbury Cathedral

Following his royal wedding sermon that was watched by 1.9 billion people, Curry confessed that his grandma had been in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. “She was there in the room singing hymns. I could hear her voice in the back. She was saying: “I gotta see this, I gotta see this.”’

As he reflected further on her life, Curry shared that during a very difficult time in college when he was pursuing a path towards political advocacy, his grandma’s face appeared and that started his discernment for the priesthood. He started to read some of the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. and “that’s when it all began to crystallize,” he said. “Well, if you want to have an impact on the world where we live, maybe your way is to become a priest.”

Although Curry’s grandma didn’t live to see him ordained, she knew he was in seminary. Curry said that when she found out, she joked, “Now Baptist preachers ain’t get the call; they start preaching. How come you’ve got to go to school?”

— Matthew MacDonald is associate editor of the Episcopal News Service.

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