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Bishop Todd Ousley named bishop for Office of Pastoral Development

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 2:01pm

The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry has named Bishop Todd Ousley of Eastern Michigan as bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development, a member of the Presiding Bishop’s staff.

“Bishop Ousley is an experienced bishop with a depth of pastoral and leadership skills,” Curry said. “I am very thankful to him for his willingness to assume this particular ministry which is vital to the spiritual life and vitality of our bishops and, through them, the Episcopal Church. I have known and worked with him for several years and, like my brothers and sisters in the community of bishops and spouses, Bishop Ousley has my deep respect, affection and trust.”

“While it is difficult to cease being bishop in the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, I am honored to serve the Presiding Bishop, the House of Bishops, and the Episcopal Church in a vital role of sustaining the health of our bishops and dioceses,” Ousley said. “For almost 16 years I have had the privilege of serving the Diocese of Eastern Michigan as canon and as bishop, and through it all, we have been sustained by the power of deep relationships, trust in God and trust in one another. I look forward to working with my colleagues, the presiding bishop, and the churchwide staff in further enhancing healthy dioceses and healthy bishops.”

Ousley was appointed following a process in which a committee led by Bishop Jim Waggoner (Diocese of Spokane, resigned) interviewed and recommended finalists who were then interviewed by the presiding bishop and members of the committee working together.

Ousley begins his new position on July 5 and at that time, he can be contacted at tousley@episcopalchurch.org. He will be based in Michigan.

Meet Bishop Ousley
Ousley has been bishop of Eastern Michigan since 2007, having been elected bishop coadjutor in 2006.  He was canon to the ordinary for five years prior.

Before his service in Eastern Michigan, he was rector in churches in Texas. Prior to ordination, Ousley was a therapist and business manager at a psychiatric hospital in Texas.

Among his extensive Episcopal Church activities, Ousley was

  • At the 78th General Convention in 2015, House of Bishops liaison with House of Deputies Committee on Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop and Vice-Chairperson for the HOB Legislative Committee on Ministry.
  • At the 77th General Convention in 2012, chairperson of the HOB Legislative Committee on Small Congregations.
  • Member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence.
  • Member of the HOB Planning Committee, chairperson since 2015 and co-chairperson 2012 – 2015.
  • Member of HOB Pastoral Development Committee since 2007; chairperson since 2016.
  • Member of the Court of Review for Trial of a Bishop 2007 – 2011.
  • Board member of Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1990 – 1991 and 2003 – 2005.

Ousley holds a Doctor of Ministry in congregational development from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary; Master of Divinity from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest; Master of Science in Educational Psychology from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas; and a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Baylor University. Ousley also holds various licenses, certificates and continuing education credentials.

Bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development

In this full-time position that reports directly to the Presiding Bishop, the bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development serves as chaplain to bishops and families as a pastoral point person for and with the presiding bishop.

Among the responsibilities for the bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development:

  • Provide confidential non-judgmental listening, counsel, guidance, direction and support in crisis and disaster intervention: bereavement counseling, as well as conflict resolution.
  • Participate with the Planning Committee for the House of Bishops gatherings and meetings in an ex officio
  • Responsible for the processes in the Title III canons on ministry development that pertain to bishops, including the pastoral functions such as pastoral guidance and training.
  • Responsible for the processes in the Title IV canons on clergy disciplinary that pertain to bishops, focus on pastoral and coordinator roles and ensure that the process moves in an appropriate and timely manner.
  • Provide oversight of the bishop search processes churchwide, which includes providing materials and support for the bishop election process.

Ousley assumes the position from Bishop Clay Matthews who is retiring.

“As chaplain to bishops and families and pastoral point person for and with the presiding bishop, I will continue the firm foundation laid by the current bishop for pastoral development, Bishop Clay Matthews,” Ousley continued. “His nearly two decades of service in this role have been marked by formational and relational work that have helped heal a divided House of Bishops and enabled us to be more responsive to significant challenges in the church and the culture.”

Archbishop to lead flotilla to reclassification of England’s largest parish church

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 1:52pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of York John Sentamu will head towards England’s largest parish church on a lifeboat next month. He will be joined by a flotilla of boats from pleasure crafts to police launches for the reclassification of Holy Trinity Church in Hull as Hull Minster.

Full article.

RIP: Fifth Bishop of Los Angeles Frederick Houk Borsch

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 12:55pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Frederick Houk Borsch died early on April 11 from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia. He was 81 years old.

Borsch died in his sleep at his Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, home, according to a post on the Diocese of Los Angeles’ Facebook page. He served as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles from 1988 to 2002.

The clergy of the Diocese of Los Angeles learned of Borsch’s death as they gathered for the annual Holy Tuesday renewal of vows at the Cathedral Center on April 11.

Educated at Princeton, Oxford and the General Theological Seminary, his doctorate in New Testament studies was from the University of Birmingham in England, according to an announcement from St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in San Marino. He held teaching posts in England, at Seabury-Western Seminary, and at General Theological Seminary prior to becoming dean and president of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, where he served until his 1988 election as bishop.

Borsch returned to academics after leaving the Diocese of Los Angeles, serving as professor of New Testament and chair of Anglican studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The seminary honored him in 2014 by instituting the Frederick Houk Borsch Chair in Anglican Studies.

Contributor of essays, articles and poetry to a number of journals and newspapers, Borsch was the author or editor of some 20 books. A bibliography, along with more biographical information, is available here.

Memorial services are pending at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, and St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Santa Monica, California.

A 47-minute interview with Borsch in 2014 about his life and work is below.

Little Rock cathedral to hold prayer service for seven death-row inmates on the eve of executions

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 11:49am

Inmates Bruce Ward (top row L to R), Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones (bottom row L to R), Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee are shown in these booking photo provided March 21, 2017. Seven are scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Arkansas, beginning April 17, 2017. A federal judge stayed McGehee’s execution on April 6. Courtesy Arkansas Department of Corrections/REUTERS

[Episcopal News Service] Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Arkansas, is scheduled to hold a special prayer service at 8 p.m. on Easter Sunday, the eve of an 11-day period of planned executions, for seven of the state’s death-row inmates, for their victims and families and for the executioners.

“The cathedral will hold services if we reach the point when there is nothing left to do but pray,” said the Very Rev. Christoph Keller III, dean and rector, in an email message to Episcopal News Service. “Then we will pray for the men who are about to die, and those who love them; and for those who died and suffered in the crimes for which they have been convicted, and those who love them.”

Death penalty opponents have held daily demonstrations outside the governor’s mansion since the executions were announced in March. On April 12, clergy planned to hand deliver a letter signed by more than 200 clergy from across Arkansas to Gov. Asa Hutchison urging Hutchison to show mercy.

Two of the seven men are scheduled to die by lethal injection on Easter Monday, April 17, two more on April 20, another two on the 24, and one on April 27; the final execution is scheduled three days before the expiration date of the execution sedative midazolam. One hour before the scheduled executions, the cathedral will host a brief ecumenical service followed by a short walk to the Arkansas governor’s mansion for a candlelight vigil.

The state’s decision to execute an unprecedented number of inmates in quick succession and with controversial lethal injections has drawn international criticism, spawned lawsuits arguing the quick succession of executions raises the risk the inmates’ death will be “cruel and unusual,” and put Arkansas and its governor at the center of the nation’s death penalty debate.

Hutchinson, who set the execution dates, admitted to feeling “uneasy” about the need to schedule the executions in quick succession in advance of the sedative’s expiration date. (Drug companies, like Pfizer, have begun to impose controls over drugs they manufacture to ensure they are not used in lethal injections.)

The state originally had planned to execute eight inmates, but a federal judge last week stayed the execution of one of the men. All eight death-row inmates were convicted of murder between 1989 and 1999.

“The death penalty is driven by revenge – not justice,” said the Rev. Allison Liles, executive director of Episcopal Peace Fellowship, in a late March press release condemning the executions. “And a high price of this vengeful punishment is being paid by the prison workers forced to endure the reality of what it means to execute a human being.”

Arkansas hasn’t executed a prisoner in 12 years; when the governor scheduled the eight executions it came “out of the blue,” said Caroline Stevenson, a member of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock and a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

The ongoing protests outside the governor’s mansion indicate citizens’ outrage and “give them a way to try and influence the governor,” said Stevenson, in a phone call with ENS. “Is he moveable? Not that we can tell.”

The governor says he is carrying out the law, said the Rev. Mary Janet Murray, a retired deacon and a member of St. Michael’s and the EPF.

“He claims ‘it’s the law and if you want to change the law, you have to talk the legislature into doing that,’” said Murray, also in a phone call with ENS.

Stevenson is also a longtime member of the Arkansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, which was formed in 1976 when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. (In 1972, the court had ruled the death penalty “cruel and unusual” punishment and in violation of the Eighth and 14th amendments.) She is also a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, which also advocates for ending the death penalty.

It’s a mistake, said Stevenson, to conflate justice and revenge and to think that executions will bring closure to the healing process for victims’ families.

“Executions don’t bring the kind of solace that people think will bring to families, it compounds the violence,” said Stevenson, whose college-age son, then a student at Syracuse University, was killed in the December 1998 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Arkansas Bishop Larry Benfield called the unprecedented number of executions “at very least a discordant note to strike in a state that reports higher-than-average belief in God and church attendance.”

He went on to ask: “Are these planned executions where the teachings of the church have taken Arkansans? Or have the people of this state and their leaders chosen to ignore the very religious principles they proclaim?” Benfield has joined other Arkansas faith leaders in speaking against the executions.

Sixty-one percent of Arkansas residents expressed support for the death penalty in a recent poll. And the state ranks fifth among the most highly religious U.S. states the Pew Research Center’s 2016 religious landscape study.

“The bigger question to me is how can you be a Christian and support violence of so many kinds,” said Stevenson when asked how Arkansans square the Christian beliefs with support for the death penalty. She cited the elimination of programs that feed children, a federal budget that promotes military spending and weapons of mass destruction. “The bigger question for me is how do we square our following of Jesus with violence?

“Maybe this execution that we’re going through right now will cause people to question their own understanding of Jesus’ teaching about killings. It took me a long time to come to a better understanding. I didn’t question [the death penalty] growing up. I thought it was just here and I didn’t question the decisions of people in high places.”

In 2015, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church reaffirmed its longstanding call to end the death penalty. Thirty-one U.S. states allow the death penalty; Arkansas has executed 27 people since 1976.

— Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service.

Crucified migrants sculpture highlights the plight of refugees

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 11:27am

[Anglican Communion News Service] St Paul’s Cathedral in Bendigo, in the Australian state of Victoria, is displaying an artwork depicting crucified migrants in the run-up to Easter. The cathedral’s dean, John Roundhill, said that he hoped the exhibition would “challenge people at this Easter time to make a deep connection between events 2,000 years ago and the plight of refugees in our world today.”

Read the full article here.

Inside the exiled South Sudanese diocese of Kajo-Keji

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 11:10am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The third bishop of the Diocese of Kajo-Keji, Emmanuel Murye Modi, was consecrated and installed on Jan. 151. On Jan. 20, the area was hit by the country’s brutal civil war. By the end of January, Kajo-Keji was all-but evacuated, with some 98 percent of the population fleeing to Uganda.

The Diocese of Kajo-Keji also has relocated and has set up new headquarters and moved its ecumenical training program to the Ugandan town of Moyo.

Full article.

Georgia lynching victims remembered as racial reconciliation efforts expand

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 4:10pm

A historical marker remembering lynching victims in Georgia is unveiled on March 18 in LaGrange. Photo courtesy of Wesley Edwards

[Episcopal News Service] In one of the darkest corners of American history – the lynching of black victims by white attackers – details of many of these decades-old killings have long remained a mystery as present-day researchers seek to identify the victims and bring racial healing to their communities.

Those efforts have gained steam in Georgia, where last year the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta launched a three-year series of pilgrimages intended to bring these victims and their stories to light. At the same time, a group of residents in one west-central Georgia community, LaGrange, has been working with police, civic leaders and churches to come to grips with a nearly forgotten lynching in their city.

“The wind of the spirit is blowing … and moving us to the realization that in order [for] racial healing to occur then we have to deal with lynching,” said Catherine Meeks, who heads the Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism.

Meeks praises the work of the LaGrange group, named Troup Together, after Troup County, where the town is located. The diocese and Troup Together are pursuing separate but parallel efforts with similar goals: to remember lynching victims, reveal their untold stories and encourage racial reconciliation.

Nearly two years of work by Troup Together culminated in January in a public apology issued by Police Chief Lou Dekmar for his department’s role in the lynching of Austin Callaway in 1940. Callaway was found gravely injured on the side of a highway after being taken from a cell at the LaGrange jail by a white mob, an injustice enabled by LaGrange officers.

And in March, white pastors spoke at a church service to confess white congregations’ complicity in Callaway’s death and other acts of racial violence. That service was followed by a dedication of a historical marker at Warren Temple United Methodist Church and a cemetery service for Callaway and more than 500 lynching victims in Troup County and around the state.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is among several LaGrange congregations working with Troup Together. The church hosted a luncheon for Callaway’s relatives and those of two other lynching victims before they attended the church service in March.

“While we can’t change [the past], we can acknowledge the horror of it and regret it and make our atonement,” said Janet Beall, a retired educator and longtime member of St. Mark’s who attended the ceremonies along with St. Mark’s rector, the Very Rev. R. Allen Pruitt.

Troup Together evolved from a biracial book group in LaGrange that two years ago read and discussed “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” a 2011 book by James H. Cone. The group’s subsequent research into local history turned up information on the lynching of Callaway. That led to a prayer service in September 2015 marking 75 years since the killing. The reconciliation efforts have grown from there.

“Our goal is to learn to love our neighbors, and I find that we really can’t do that in any meaningful way unless we know each other’s stories,” said Wesley Edwards, one of the leaders of Troup Together. “Even though we live in the same community we don’t share the same histories as racial groups, and there’s a lot that we don’t know or appreciate across the boundaries of race about each other.”

Cone’s book draws a direct parallel between Jesus’ death on the cross and the deep suffering of American blacks that continued after slavery into what he identifies as “the lynching era,” 1880 to 1940.

“In that era, the lynching tree joined the cross as the most emotionally charged symbols in the African American community,” Cone says. “Both the cross and the lynching tree represented the worst in human beings and at the same time ‘an unquenchable ontological thirst’ for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning.”

In segregated communities across the South, the intended message of a lynching was fear, Meeks said.

“The purpose of it was to terrorize black people and any white people who were going to sympathize with black people, so lynching was about terror,” Meeks said. Its roots were in a thread of American society that held a belief in white supremacy, she said, “and that same white supremacy thread continues to haunt us in this country.”

The Commission on Dismantling Racism, whose anti-racism training program has served as a model for other Episcopal dioceses, is working to honor the 600 or so people documented to have died from lynching in Georgia. Its first pilgrimage, in October, brought nearly 200 people to Macon, Georgia, and the site where in 1922 a lynch mob dumped the body of John “Cockey” Glover.

The commission has a busy 2017 planned. A second pilgrimage is set for Athens this October, Meeks said, and her commission is working to open a center for racial healing near Morehouse College in Atlanta by that month. The commission also is encouraging parishes in the diocese to hold screenings of the movie “13th,” about racial injustice in the American prison system.

Meeks and her team also want to establish a permanent memorial to Georgia’s lynching victims that incorporates the list of names, similar to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Meeks is in contact with the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta as one possible location.

“There is great interest in this idea,” Meeks said, estimating a two-year timeframe for the project to come together.

There are plenty of victims to remember, including some whose precise fate remains unknown.

Bobbie Hart, one of the Troup Together leaders, never knew her paternal grandfather. He vanished decades ago while working on the railroad, and the more Hart and her sister learned about him and his mysterious disappearance the more they became convinced that he had been the victim of a lynching.

Hart, who was raised Baptist and now attends a Methodist church, knows relatives of Austin Callaway but was unaware of the lynching until working on Troup Together with Edwards. She was overcome with emotion while attending the group’s prayer service for Callaway in 2015.

“I felt a sadness come over me and I prayed and I felt the need to ask the Lord to forgive the men that did this to them,” Hart, now 64, said. “And I felt that it was important that, me being a black female … I chose to forgive this injustice.”

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

Anglicans join global wave of solidarity after Palm Sunday Coptic bombings

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 12:31pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglican leaders around the world have added their voices to the global wave of solidarity that followed the deadly Palm Sunday attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt. The terror group Daesh claimed responsibility for the attacks, which left at least 44 people dead and many more injured.

The secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said that he was “shocked and greatly saddened” by the attacks, “particularly as they took place on Palm Sunday,” he said.

Full article.

Burundian Anglicans march against gender-based violence

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 12:28pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop Martin Blaise Nyaboho led a delegation from the Anglican Church of Burundi in a public march of several hundred people last month, in a public demonstration against gender-based violence. Archbishop Martin was joined on the march by the Bishop of Rumonge Pedaculi Birakengana and members of both provincial and diocesan staff and many school children.

Full article.

Raphaelle Sondak named Episcopal Church director of human resources

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 3:01pm

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Raphaelle Sondak has been named the Episcopal Church director of human resources, a member of the presiding bishop’s staff.

“I was very impressed with Raphaelle’s background in employee relations and leadership development,” said the Rev. Geoffrey Smith, Episcopal Church chief operating officer. “I’m excited at the prospect of collaborating with her as we develop our strategies for talent development, compensation management, and the important work on culture change we’re all engaged in.”

“I am honored to be joining the staff of the Episcopal Church,” Sondak said. “The staff is known for its dedication and talent, and I look forward to being a member of a competent, energetic team.”

In her new position, Sondak will report to the chief operating officer and will be responsible for providing organizational development strategies and directing the human resources department in partnering and supporting the mission and ministry goals of the Episcopal Church.  She will be responsible for managing and overseeing the talent acquisition process and ensuring compliance with federal, state, and in-house regulatory requirements and procedures; benefits administration, and compliance with internal personnel policies and procedures.

Sondak has extensive experience in human resources. Currently, Sondak is the human resource director at Catholic Guardian Services, a social services agency in the New York region. Previously she served as director of human resources at Visiting Nurses Association of Hudson Valley, the American Institute for Foreign Study and HELP, USA.

In addition, she has been an adjunct professor teaching human resources management at Mercy College and has also served on the Board of Directors at Hudson Valley Hospital Center.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in human development from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and a master’s degree in human resource management from Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

She begins her new position on May 1. Sondak’ s office will be located at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City; as of May 1 she can be reached at rsondak@episcopalchurch.org.

Montreal Diocesan Theological College names Jesse Zink principal

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 2:37pm

[Montreal Diocesan Theological College] The Rev.  Jesse Zink has been appointed the next principal of Montreal Diocesan Theological College (MDTC). His appointment was approved by MDTC’s Board of Governors on March 27, 2017.

Zink is currently the director of the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide in Cambridge, England, a member institution of the ecumenical Cambridge Theological Federation. He is also an affiliated lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity of Cambridge University.

A graduate of the Faculty of Divinity of Cambridge University, Zink has extensive experience in theological education and academic administration. The Rt. Rev. Mary Irwin-Gibson, bishop of Montreal and president of MDTC noted how delighted she is to be welcoming  Zink to the diocese. She said, “Dr. Zink brings with him a commitment to the future of the college and its community, showing a readiness to engage with the majority francophone, diverse, and secular environment in which the college and the Anglican Church in Quebec minister.”

“What is most striking about MDTC is its many existing strengths,” Zink said. “Strong ecumenical relations, an innovative and mission-focused M.Div. program, the long-standing relationship with McGill, one of Canada’s leading universities, and the low costs relative to comparable programs in North America. I look forward to working with partners and colleagues in the Montreal School of Theology, the alumni community, the Dioceses of Montreal and Quebec, and churches more broadly to build on these strengths, raise the profile of the college, and chart a sustainable future in coming years.”

The Rev. Robert Camara, chair of the search committee and a member of the College’s Board of Governors, commented: “the committee was particularly impressed by his belief in the value the college holds for its students and the church they will serve.” Camara went on further to say that he was excited for the college because, “Dr. Zink’s sense of potential for the future, his demonstrated ability for collaboration, his openness to an ever-changing environment, and his passion and drive for theological education were qualities that were evident to the search committee. But, what also impressed the Search Committee was his own deep sense of vocation as a priest who also happens to serve as an academic.”

Zink is the author of three books about theology, mission, and the global church, including “A Faith for the Future and Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity.” His doctoral research at Cambridge University was a study of the growth of the Anglican church during Sudan’s second civil war.

Zink was born in Vancouver and raised in the United States. In addition to his doctorate, he has degrees from Acadia University, the University of Chicago, and Yale Divinity School. He worked as a news reporter at a radio station in Alaska and as a Young Adult Service Corps missionary in South Africa before his ordination in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts in the Episcopal Church.

Zink will assume his new post on Aug. 1, 2017. The MDTC community looks forward to welcoming Zink and his family as they join our diocese.

Decision edges closer on future of Christchurch Cathedral

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 11:40am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The property division of the New Zealand Diocese of Christchurch has defended itself over allegations that it has dragged its feet over the future of the iconic cathedral, which was all but destroyed in the 2011 earthquake.

The Church Property Trustees, which has responsibility for 280 church and commercial properties on behalf of the diocese, hit out after Philip Burdon used an opinion piece in the city’s The Press newspaper to claim that the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust had been “the victims of sham negotiations.”

Full article.

Archbishops launch review of English cathedrals’ governance

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 11:37am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The archbishops of Canterbury and York have set up a working group to examine the governance of the Church of England’s cathedrals. The group has been established at a time when a number of English cathedrals are facing financial and other difficulties.

One of its tasks will be to advise the Archbishops’ Council on whether the Cathedrals Measure – the 1999 legislation that sets out the regulations that cathedrals must follow in their administration – needs to be revised.

Full article.

As violence surrounds, Chicago school’s partnership with suburban church offers students help, hope

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 3:21pm

Community Christian Alternative Academy in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood specializes in helping dropouts earn their high school diplomas. It’s exterior is covered in colorful murals like this one, overlooking a parking lot. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Chicago, Illinois] At Community Christian Alternative Academy, in one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods, the dead are still remembered a generation later in bold, black paint.

Snake. Pookie. Johnny Rae. Malek. There are others – their names and the years when they died are affixed to two-dimensional tombstones under the letters “RIP” in the outdoor mural that towers over the school’s entrance on South Pulaski Road in North Lawndale on the city’s west side. Because the artwork hasn’t been updated since its creation, these deaths run from 1989 through 1994.

A mural from the late 1980s and early 1990s that overlooks CCA Academy’s entrance remembers students and relatives of students killed by drugs and gunfire a generation ago. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

“It was a way that the students were expressing their grief,” school founder Myra Sampson said in an interview with Episcopal News Service. “Some of those ‘resting in peace’ were students, and some were family members of students, but it was a way for remembering people they had lost.”

The mural is a product of a former era whose violence is not easily forgotten. The murder rates in the early ’90s often are cited as a bleak reference point when tallying Chicago’s recent surge in gun violence and homicides. Last year, 34 people were killed just in North Lawndale, according to Chicago Tribune reporting, and Chicago’s citywide toll rose to 786 in 2016, the most of any city in America. The deadly trend has continued in 2017. The year’s homicide total had hit 155 as of April 7, according to records kept by DNA Info.

Chicago, though not alone in facing such grim statistics, is the setting for a conference hosted by a group of Episcopal bishops who see behind the violence an “unholy trinity” of guns, poverty and racism. Bishops United Against Gun Violence’s conference will be held at the Lutheran School of Theology from April 20 to 22 in Hyde Park.

The conference aims to illuminate the problems at the intersection of guns, poverty and racism but also bring a Christian message of hope and reconciliation, the bishops say.

“Chicago has been the focus of much of the country’s attention on issues of urban gun violence, so it’s my hope that this conference makes a contribution to the creation of effective responses to this epidemic,” Diocese of Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee said in an email message. “One of the vows a bishop makes at his or her ordination is ‘to defend those who have no helper,’ in the name of Jesus Christ. I can think of few issues more compelling than this one to make good on that vow.”

More than a statistic, shooting deaths deeply affect communities like North Lawndale. Sampson said eight of the city’s homicide victims during the 2015-16 school year were current or past CCA Academy students. She couldn’t recall a year when the school was hit so hard. So far in 2017, nine of the city’s homicides have been in North Lawndale, according to DNA Info.

“Our students see so much death and a lot of time don’t have anyone to help them process that,” Sampson said.

The nondenominational charter school, which specializes in helping dropouts earn their high school diplomas, has had a partner in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church since the school opened in 1978. A former rector was friends with Sampson, and early on, the congregation in suburban Park Ridge helped the school fill out paperwork, gave $1,000 to create the school’s reading lab and secured the down payment for its current building through a $30,000 United Thank Offering grant from the Episcopal Church.

More recently, the church formed a group of a dozen tutors who take turns traveling to the school once a week and providing students one-on-one help with their homework. Such individual attention, Sampson said, may prove critical in helping these 200 or so students, ages 16 to 21, grow into adults who can beat the cycle of violence in their neighborhood.

The gravity of the challenge is written on the wall: The victims memorialized in the school’s mural – the youngest, 15, the oldest, 21 – were the same age as students who now pass by on their way inside each day.

This closeup of the mural memorializing victims of violence shows the years of their deaths date from 1989 to 1994. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service


Tutoring program part of suburban church’s longtime outreach

Park Ridge is in many ways worlds apart from North Lawndale. Residents in this northwest suburb live in modest, well-kept houses with yard signs supporting candidates for alderman, school board and parks board. During the week, they typically commute to work at office jobs in Chicago or run their own businesses in Park Ridge, said the Rev. Patrick Skutch, St. Mary’s rector of two years.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Park Ridge, Illinois, is seen in March. The church has a longtime partnership with CCA Academy about a half hour away in Chicago. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

His congregation is diverse in age, Skutch said, but mostly white. It also is active in the community, for example, organizing a monthly Second Sunday Sack Lunches drive to pack meals for the hungry.

“People here really have a passion for serving others,” Skutch said.

The tutoring program was started by church member Dava Kondiles, a recently retired music teacher.

“The first year it was kind of an experiment. We weren’t even sure what we were going to do,” Kondiles said.

Now in its third year, the program has become a valued part of the CCA Academy routine. Every Tuesday, five of the tutors from St. Mary’s, most of them women, spend four hours at CCA Academy, tutoring one group of students in the morning and a second group in the afternoon.

Sampson, who serves as the school’s chief education officer, said the emphasis typically is on seniors who need the extra push to graduate, and students appreciate the tutors’ help.

“A lot of our students are academically behind, and so sometimes the only way you can grasp a concept and move forward is if someone has some time to spend with you so that you can learn that concept,” she said.

Kondiles, a 64-year-old Skokie resident, said the tutors may get just as much out of the sessions, witnessing the students grow in their education. The tutors see themselves as delivering tools that will help these students rise out of poverty.

“I call it the education brigade,” Kondiles said. “That’s the great leveler.”

Shootings hit close to home for CCA Academy students

In even the best traffic conditions, it takes about a half hour to drive from St. Mary’s in Park Ridge down I-294 and the Eisenhower Expressway to CCA Academy. The streets of North Lawndale pass in front of apartment buildings, auto body shops, liquor stores and retail centers, where the bright lights of stores contrast with the side streets’ duplexes, some of them displaying boarded-up windows.

By most indicators, North Lawndale is a neighborhood besieged by violence and poverty. A Chicago Tribune report in March that focused on the neighborhood’s plight put the indicators in perspective: Last year, out of 77 Chicago neighborhoods, North Lawndale had the fifth-most violent crimes, fifth-most homicides and second-most shootings, at 282.

The neighborhood once was home to the Sears, Roebuck & Co. headquarters, as well as Zenith, Sunbeam and Western Electric. Then in the 1950s, “white flight” was coupled with a surge in black residents, and riots in 1968 over the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were followed by years of decline and industries closing, according to the Steans Family Foundation. Now, 21 percent of North Lawndale’s working-age population is unemployed, 43 percent of households live in poverty and nearly 28 percent of residents do not have a high school diploma, the Tribune reported.

A placard inviting prospective students to “Enroll Now” is positioned outside CCA Academy in March. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

CCA Academy has been a fixture of the neighborhood for all the school’s 39 years. It serves as something of a sanctuary, in a building reclaimed from the neighborhood’s industrial past. The school fills more than 18,000 square feet of a former bottle cap factory, a building that today would be unrecognizable as a school if it weren’t wrapped in telltale murals and signs, including a moveable placard encouraging potential students to “Enroll Now.”

The school grounds have been free of violence, Sampson said, but death surrounds. She estimates three or four of her students each month grapple with the sudden death of a relative or friend, typically a casualty of gunfire. And those who escape danger still may be traumatized by the violence they witness on the streets.

Students don’t readily share such experiences with their tutors from St. Mary’s, and the lesson-minded tutors don’t want to pry. Their presence in these students’ lives often speaks for itself, as in the aftermath of the killing last year of a CCA Academy student by Chicago police, a high-profile incident that shone a dim spotlight on North Lawndale.

The student, 16-year-old Pierre Loury, reportedly was fleeing police at a traffic stop when he was shot by an officer on April 11, 2016, a Monday. Police said Loury had threatened the officer with a gun. The killing sparked criticisms of the force and demonstrations by Loury’s family members and their supporters.

The tutors from St. Mary’s learned of the tension in North Lawndale from a school administrator in a phone call Monday night. Should the tutors still come Tuesday? Yes, certainly, was the response. The school wanted to keep a sense of normalcy, Kondiles said.

When they arrived Tuesday morning, “the atmosphere was pretty electric,” said Paula Risk, 69, a retired nurse and fellow tutor. Some students were working through their feelings by making posters in memory of their slain fellow student, who was to be remembered at a vigil that night.

The drive back to Park Ridge on a day like that can feel like going through decompression, Risk said, but they also see hope to balance the tragedy. The tutors are committed to these students.

“We’re called as Christians to help other people, so you help how you can,” Kondiles said.

Volunteer tutors Dava Kondiles, left, and Paula Risk discuss their work with CCA Academy students in March at a coffee shop near St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

“People want something different, want something better”

The problem of gun violence is bigger than one school or one church, even one city. Chicago has unfortunate company in places like St. Louis, which some have called the country’s real murder capital because it has the highest per capita homicide rate. And a Wall Street Journal analysis in February identified Chicago, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Memphis as the four large American cities that have seen homicide totals approach or break records set in the 1990s.

Poverty, racism and violence are “an insidious trinity of evil forces,” Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton said. Taylor is one of the conveners of the upcoming Bishops United conference and coined the phrase “unholy trinity.”

“We see it playing out here in Baltimore almost daily,” Sutton told ENS. “By far, most of the victims of violence are poor and people of color. Also, most of the perpetrators of gun violence are poor and persons of color.”

Chicago has the additional burden of becoming a presidential punching bag. After lamenting generally about crime and poverty as “this American carnage” in his inaugural address, President Donald Trump days later singled out Chicago’s violence for scrutiny, warning he would “send in the Feds” if the city doesn’t solve the problem itself.

Skutch, the rector at St. Mary’s, thinks Trump’s reaction belies the complexity of the issue. “A lot of our cities in America struggle with the same reality,” he said. “It’s one thing to stand outside it and criticize it. It’s another thing to be in it.”

And while gun violence doesn’t plague Park Ridge residents, “our neighbors’ children deal with that on a daily basis,” Skutch said, so his congregation is reaching out any way it can.

Outside support is welcomed in North Lawndale, where children often don’t have the same extended family and institutional support that past generations may have relied on, Sampson said. With help from St. Mary’s, students at CCA Academy typically graduate at a rate of 90 percent or higher.

Sampson sees more in that achievement that a piece of paper to hang on the wall.

“We have young people in Chicago who are 20 and 21 who have not had a job,” she said. “When adults integrate as contributing members of society … we consider that a success.”

North Lawndale is a tough neighborhood, but she also sees hope and perseverance.

“It is a neighborhood with a lot of poverty. It’s a neighborhood with more than its share of crime,” Sampson said. “But in many ways the good, positive thing is that it’s a neighborhood where people want something different, want something better. They have accepted us and appreciate when someone inputs into the community and into the lives of the students.”

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

International gathering of bishops held in northern England

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 12:36pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Leeds Bishop Nick Baines has this week hosted a group of international bishops for a retreat in the north of England.

Those participating were: the archbishop of Khartoum, the bishops of Mara, Colombo, Faisalabad, Southwestern Virginia and Skara and the superintendent of Erfurt. They spent five days with the bishop of Leeds and the suffragan bishops of Bradford, Huddersfield, Richmond, Ripon and Wakefield.

Full article.

World Council of Churches urges end to ‘culture of impunity’ in Syria

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 12:33pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] World Council of Churches General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit has called for a cultural shift as he expressed deep sympathy to the families of the victims of  a suspected nerve gas attack in Idlib province in Syria. Multiple news sources have confirmed that more than 70 people have died, including 20 children, in the village of Khan Sheikhoun.

Full article.