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Director of unity, faith and order appointed for Anglican Communion

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 1:58am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The ecumenical adviser to the archbishop of Canterbury, William Adam, is to be the new director of unity, faith and order for the Anglican Communion. His new role, which is effective immediately, will be held alongside his role at Lambeth Palace, which he has held since 2017.

He succeeds the Rev. John Gibaut, who was appointed to the post in 2014 and held it until earlier this year, when he became president, provost and vice-chancellor of Canada’s Thorneloe University.

Read the full article here.

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Diocese of Los Angeles heralds rebirth of closed church as new ‘exploratory community’

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 12:53pm

Volunteers pitch in to clear the dying lawn at St. Barnabas’ Church in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, preparing to plant a garden with herbs, vegetables and flowers. Photo: Jubilee Consortium

[Diocese of Los Angeles] Call it revival or resurrection, the Diocese of Los Angeles’ St. Barnabas Episcopal Church — which closed to official worship a year ago — is back as “St. Be” and is inviting the entire diocesan community to a Sept. 28 party to celebrate the launch of a reimagined, exploratory community in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock neighborhood.

For the Rev. Jaime Edwards-Acton, jump-starting the new ministry was part of being a good neighbor.

“I’ve lived in Eagle Rock for 20 years and I wanted to explore something new, to re-energize the community, just because it’s my neighborhood, and because I’d love to have a vibrant community here,” said Edwards-Acton, who is rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Hollywood and executive director of the Jubilee Consortium.

His work with the consortium, a collaborative of Episcopal churches formed in 2001 to provide leadership and enrichment programs to local communities, helped fuel the revitalization.

It also sparked the imaginations and captured the hearts of folks like Junmey Wang, 25, a 2018 Jubilee Intern who asked to be involved when she heard about the St. Be’s initiative.

“Just the vision that we had for St. Barnabas was really attractive to me,” Wang told the diocese’s Episcopal News recently. “The idea of remaking a space for the Eagle Rock community, the idea of it being a diocesan-wide effort instead of just a St. Stephen’s effort — I wanted to help build something creative like that. A place to explore our faith and to journey together was something very beautiful and an effort in which I wanted to be involved.”

For Wang, St. Be’s represents personal transformation: “This is the first time I’ve been in a church community where the voices of young people are valued,” she said. “And not just valued, but we have the opportunity to impact the long-term vision of the church.

“The community that I know of in St. Be has been welcoming to me, in allowing me to exist in a gray space, where I am able to ask questions and to be creative. I am glad to have found a community that is seeking to create meaning but is also open to the mysteries of life, to not knowing together.”

It has involved a great deal of challenging work.

Rodell Jefferson, a former Jubilee Intern, is one of the leaders of the new community being built at the Eagle Rock church. Photo: Jubilee Consortium

Wang and Rodell Jefferson, 22, also a former Jubilee intern, are the church’s organizers — responsibilities that involve fluid job descriptions, patience, flexibility and a willingness to take on just about any task.

Like pulling out all the dead grass at the front of the 104-year-old church, tilling and composting to prepare for a big planting Sept. 28. At the evening launch party, guests will be invited to plant the first herb, vegetable and flower seeds for a Seeds of Hope garden.

“It’s a lot of logistical work,” according to Jefferson, whose responsibilities have ranged from securing parking lots and utilities to crafting online Facebook and Instagram communities.

The logistics include getting to know the community in Eagle Rock, just north of downtown Los Angeles. That is a core of the ongoing work, according to Payton Høegh, a communications specialist for Seeds of Hope and the Jubilee Consortium.

“Jaime is passionate about not coming into the Eagle Rock community or St. Barnabas with a clear vision of what he wants it to be,” he said. “He wants this to be a process more about listening to what people need and want from an Episcopal presence in Eagle Rock.

“It’s an exciting adventure to see how community is being built from the ground up; it’s reinvigorating,” he added. “We’ve gone over demographics to the Mission InSite information that gets into what Eagle Rock is looking for in a church community.”

Getting to know the community has meant, for Jefferson, pounding the pavement. “I’ve been doing a lot to try and create community physically, going to different businesses and neighbors, saying hello to people walking by.

“Everywhere I turn, [I’m] trying to interact and let them know what we are doing in Eagle Rock,” he said. “I am most excited about what Eagle Rock needs and trying to fill that and be that for the community.”

A marketing major, Jefferson said he turned down the possibility of another internship to join the St. Be’s team. “I did not grow up explicitly religious, although I had a grandmother who went to church every Sunday,” he told Episcopal News. “I weaseled my way out of it, played video games, watched TV. Religion and church were always around, but I was never immersed in them.

“Then I went off to school and very much went through my atheist ‘I hate religion, it’s ruining the world’” phase, he said, before a search for personal meaning replaced academic interests. With the Jubilee year, he realized, “I am in it now. I want to start a life of service, and my biggest question is, how can I love people for a living? It’s crazy, how I’ve gone from atheist to church administrator so quickly.”

Talia Guppy, 40, is a St. Stephen’s parishioner who has been attending Thursday evening gatherings at St Be’s for the past few months. The evenings consist of food, music and Bible study. Guppy, a L.A. Unified School District psychiatric social worker, says, “I am so invested in my heart and my soul in the mission of St Stephen’s that I would love for the Eagle Rock community to be able to have that same sense of being connected spiritually, with social justice and advocacy and all of it being part of our spiritual walk with God.”

Guppy, who helped deep-clean the St. Be campus, laughingly said it was “like moving into a fixer-upper house where people hadn’t taken all of their stuff. It took four or five of us about three weeks to get it all cleaned up and cleared out. It has been a great experience.”

She added: “I have never been a part of something like this, that’s starting from the foundations. The foundation is there and we are filling it. It feels really neat to be part of it and bring it and be part of this new life. I look forward to it every week.”

Los Angeles Bishop John Taylor shares that enthusiasm.

“Eagle Rock is one of the most dynamic, diverse communities in our diocese – a perfect setting for The Episcopal Church, which at its best combines liturgical and musical richness and multicultural and -generational competence with opportunities to serve our neighbors and the whole creation,” he said. “Canon Edwards-Acton is deeply devoted to his neighborhood and his church. He and his fellow saints in action are fully equipped by the Holy Spirit to organize and pilot this vital relaunch.”

Rabbi Susan Goldberg’s Nefesh Los Angeles, an independent spiritual community focused on Jewish values of kindness, compassion, love and justice, recently joined the St. Be’s campus as a tenant.

She said the partnership grew out of a prior relationship with Edwards-Acton. “Jaime and I have participated in many faith-based social justice actions,” she said. “Doing justice work has enriched our lives both personally but also has helped to enrich our community.”

Nefesh members have participated in the campus cleanups, and Goldberg plans to attend the Sept. 28 launch party.

“We want to be a part of the energy that’s happening at St. Be’s,” she said. “It is really inspiring, just seeing how they’re doing something as simple as transforming a lawn into a garden holds such possibility for the space, and for Nefesh and for those who live in the neighborhood.

“I’m excited for the community, and for all that’s going to start unfolding at St Be’s.”

A new tree at St. Be’s gets a thorough watering from a volunteer. Photo: Jubilee Consortium

Bilingual Spanish and English services are planned, with regular worship at 4 p.m. on Sundays, beginning Sept. 29, according to Edwards-Acton. Painting and other campus improvements are underway. He has hired maintenance staff, a music director and worship band, and he plans to launch a preschool.

“This has re-energized me, too, which has been awesome,” Edwards-Acton said. Although there is no congregation yet, and no income, the goal is to work toward building community.

“Our income consists of what we bring in from rental agreements, and we hope to generate income through church hall rentals and fundraisers. Right now, St. Stephen’s is helping financially. We’re willing to make the investment.”

He hopes the diocesan community—laity and clergy—will help support the efforts financially, and through prayers and their presence.

“I am hoping that folks will considering pledging one Sunday a month or a quarter to come and be the presence of Christ to those in St. Barnabas,” he said.

– The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a Los Angeles-based correspondent.

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Monthly gun violence requiem unites congregations in prayer for victims

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 4:52pm

The list of victims’ names on the altar at Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox, Massachusetts. Photo: Michael Tuck

[Diocese of Western Massachusetts] Gun violence, mass shootings and gun control are back in the news in the aftermath of the shootings in El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy. But for two parishes in the Berkshires, the response to gun violence has taken a slightly different turn. Since January, a group of parishioners from Trinity Church and St. Helena’s Chapel has been meeting on the first Saturday of every month to pray for each of the victims of gun violence as part of a monthly requiem Eucharist. Instead of responding only to the horrific moments of mass shooting, they are focusing more broadly on the epidemic of gun violence in America.

“This started as a personal ministry for me,” says the Rev. Michael Tuck, the rector of the churches in Lenox, Massachusetts. “One of my parishioners had a relative who was killed in a home invasion. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I had never really internalized how this violence causes so many ripples. Every death affects so many people.”

At the center of the Eucharist is the list of names. Every month, those who died in the previous month are remembered by name. For Tuck, this service is rooted in his own spiritual history. “I come out of the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and I was always moved by the ministry of the Guild of All Souls. There is something incredibly powerful about saying that, no matter what, we pray for the dead. And not just as a group. There’s something powerful about praying for people by name.”

Each month, the list of names takes about 40 minutes to read, and the members of the congregation take turns. Ruth Arisman, one of the regular parishioners, highlights the impact of this part of the service. “Every month, I just worry that I will see a name I recognize,” she says.

Reading the names is sometimes a challenge. “Many of the names are unfamiliar to most of us, with different spellings and coming from different cultural backgrounds. Sometimes we stumble a little,” Tuck notes. George Bergen, another regular parishioner, also expressed this challenge: “In our difficulty to read the names, we become aware of the remarkable diversity of the communities in our country.”

Compiling the list of names isn’t as simple as it sounds. Right now, there is no easily accessible list of the names of all victims of gun violence in the United States. Individual news organizations may compile local or regional lists, but there is no national list. The Gun Violence Archive tracks a list of all incidents, but doesn’t include a list of names. In order to compile the list, Tuck checks each incident in the archive and copies each name. The list, as long as it is, is woefully incomplete. Some large jurisdictions and cities, such as Philadelphia and Houston, do not regularly publish names. Some towns and cities will publish suspects’ names, but not victims’. Even with these limitations, the list includes about 1,000 names each month.

The list includes perpetrators as well as victims. “We are making no statements about the moral status or condition of anyone who has died,” Tuck explains. “This list includes people who died during the commission of a crime. It includes victims of domestic violence. There are people who killed others during a home invasion, and it includes people who were killed by a person defending their home. It includes children who were killed accidentally, people killed by police officers during the course of their duty, and officers who were killed on the job. This list includes people who took another’s life in anger, and it includes people who took their own lives. The purpose of this service is to remember that every one of these names is a person, a beloved child of God.”

Looking at each incident in the Gun Violence Archive has brought out the complexity of gun violence in America. “I was surprised at how many police officers are injured and killed in the line of duty. It makes the arguments from law enforcement about gun safety make a lot more sense to me,” says Tuck. Incidents of domestic violence can also be inferred from the list. “It’s hard to read when you see a last name repeated. It really brings domestic violence out into the open,” says Bergen. “And sometimes it’s three or four of the same name,” adds Richard Burke, senior warden at Trinity.

The next requiem Eucharist for victims of gun violence will be at Trinity Church’s chapel at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7. The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher will be the celebrant. Resources – including the service sheet – may be found through the rector’s personal blog. If you would like more information or additional resources, please contact Tuck at fr.michael.tuck@gmail.com.

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RIP: Richard Parkins, former EMM director who championed outreach to Sudan, dies at 83

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 4:07pm

[Episcopal News Service] Richard Parkins, a former Episcopal Migration Ministries director who became a leading advocate for Episcopal outreach to Sudan and South Sudan as head of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, has died. He was 83.

Parkins died Sept. 1 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., after suffering from cancer and related problems, according to Russell Randle, a member of The Episcopal Church’s Task Force on Dialogue with South Sudanese Anglican Diaspora. Randle, in a message to the task force, said Parkins died in his sleep, possibly from atrial fibrillation.

Richard Parkins, executive director of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, served 14 years as director of Episcopal Migration Ministries.

“Richard was all that is best about our church,” Randle said. “He was articulate, joyful, persistent and wise, a gracious colleague, a steadfast friend and an example to me and many others of what it means to grow into the full stature of Christ.”

Parkins also was remembered fondly by Episcopal Church Center staff who worked with him during his 14 years leading Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM.

“The number of lives that have been enriched because of the life and ministry of Richard Parkins is too great to be counted,” the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church, said in a statement to Episcopal News Service. “As director of Episcopal Migration Ministries for many years, and more recently with the American Friends of the Episcopal Church in Sudan, Richard made a remarkable difference and leaves behind a rich legacy. He will be greatly missed.”

Parkins’ work serving refugees dates back decades, beginning with his time at the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. He became director of that agency in 1980, and other experience included various work with nonprofit resettlement agencies, such as Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Service and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to an online bio.

EMM is one of the agencies with contracts to provide resettlement services to refugees on behalf of the U.S. State Department. In 1995, Parkins became director of EMM and remained in that role until 2009. Parkins also served from 2006 to 2008 as chair of the Refugee Council USA, the coalition of refugee assistance and refugee rights organizations.

The problem of people displaced from their homes by war and persecution is a “global humanitarian crisis of almost unimaginable dimensions,” Parkins said in an Episcopal Church video released in June 2007 highlighting World Refugee Day. “I think it’s also a day when you reflect on the courage and the achievements of refugees, because that’s the other side of the story that has to be told.”

Parkins had long worked to strengthen ties between The Episcopal Church and Anglicans in Sudan. As EMM director, he was part of a 1998 church visit to Sudan that included extensive travel in the Diocese of Bor and interaction with Sudanese refugees in a camp in northern Kenya, according to the bio on the website of American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, or AFRECS. That year he also served as an Episcopal Church representative at a roundtable convened by Sudan Council of Churches.

And in 2008, Parkins joined an Episcopal-Lutheran delegation that attended the enthronement of Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul as head of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, now known as the Episcopal Church of South Sudan.

AFRECS was founded in 2005 as a network of Episcopal dioceses and Episcopalians interested in supporting Anglicans in Sudan and now South Sudan. After leaving his position at EMM in 2009, Parkins joined AFRECS as executive director.

“We realized what a wonderful asset he would be,” the Rev. Richard Jones, a founding AFRECS board member, told ENS in an interview. Parkins brought a knowledge of the Sudanese crisis and deep connections within The Episcopal Church to AFRECS, Jones said, but Parkins also endeared himself to those around him with his personality. “Always courteous, always respectful of people’s positions and dignity and opinion. He had a good mind for asking big questions.”

Sudan split into two countries after a 2011 referendum, forming the new nation of South Sudan. In a 2012 article, Parkins warned that Christians to the north in Sudan feared persecution from those who believed in a strict form of Islam. Famine in South Sudan was an ever-present threat.

“Even when results are slow in coming or may seem to produce modest results, advocacy must be viewed as a means of extending ourselves as faithful Christians to those who need to know that they are not alone and not abandoned in their quest for justice and peace,” Parkins wrote. “Advocacy is a way of expressing solidarity and accompaniment with those who desperately need it.”

South Sudan devolved into a brutal civil conflict in 2013. Today, an estimated 4.3 million people have been displaced from their homes in South Sudan amid violence and deteriorating living conditions, according to the United Nations.  Seven million people in South Sudan face acute food shortages and “conditions that are equivalent to a famine.”

#BREAKING : As hunger peaks in #SouthSudan, record number of people facing critical lack of food

Diocese of Georgia announces five-person slate of candidates for bishop

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 1:46pm

[Diocese of Georgia] The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia is pleased to announce a slate of candidates who will stand for election as the 11th bishop of Georgia at the 198th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia on Nov. 14-16.

The Bishop Search Committee, after careful and prayerful discernment, recommended these candidates to the Standing Committee, who have formally approved the slate. The candidates, in alphabetical order by last name, are:

  • The Rev. Rob Brown, rector, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina.
  • The Rev. Lonnie Lacy, rector, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia.
  • The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, canon to the ordinary, Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, Savannah
  • The Ven. Jennifer McKenzie, Archdeacon of Wigan and West Lancashire, Diocese of Liverpool, Church of England
  • The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey, canon for mission development and congregational vitality, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

“We are excited to put forward a slate of candidates whom we believe possess a firm spiritual foundation along with a variety of gifts and abilities to be considered for the 11th bishop of Georgia,” said the Rev. Al Crumpton, president of the Standing Committee.

The Standing Committee also announced the opening of the petition process on Sept. 1, by which nominees may be added to the slate. The petition process closes at 5 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

Members of the Diocese of Georgia will have the opportunity to meet the candidates in person at a walkabout to five locations across the diocese from Oct. 22-25 before the November election at Diocesan Convention.

Information about the walkabout throughout the Diocese of Georgia, the candidates — including CVs, brief bios, answers to a series of questions posed to them by the Search Committee, and an introductory video produced by each candidate — can be found on the search website.

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R.I.P.: Rev. Alison Cheek, first female Episcopal priest to celebrate Eucharist, dies at 92

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 5:41pm

The Rev. Alison Cheek celebrates the Eucharist with the Rev. William A. Wendt, rector of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, in November 1974 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Harry Naltehayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Alison Cheek, one of the first female priests in The Episcopal Church and the first to publicly celebrate the Eucharist, died on Sept. 1 at her home in Brevard, North Carolina, according to friends. She was 92.

Cheek was one of the Philadelphia Eleven, the first women to be ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church. She and 10 other women were ordained at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974, two years before the ordination of women was officially authorized by General Convention. The highly controversial ordinations were later affirmed as valid.

“I sort of risked everything to do it,” she recalled on the 40th anniversary of her ordination. “I would do it again.”

Cheek was no stranger to bold moves. Born near Adelaide, Australia, in 1927, she was raised Methodist and graduated from the University of Adelaide, according to one of her former parishes. In 1957, she and her husband, Bruce, moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where she became a lay minister at several Episcopal churches while raising four children. In 1963, she became one of the first two women admitted to the Master of Divinity program at Virginia Theological Seminary, from which she graduated in 1969. With encouragement from her rector, she pursued ordination to the diaconate and became the first female deacon in the South in 1972.

During a retreat, she experienced a powerful spiritual calling to do something that had never been done before. She heard the voice of God telling her, “I want you to be my priest,” she later told the Chicago Tribune.

“It was a powerful experience. It’s why I never thought of giving up,” Cheek said.

The Rev. Alison Cheek, a newly ordained priest, is carried by the Rev. William A. Wendt and the Rev. Lauren Mead at the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation on Aug. 5, 1974 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images

And she didn’t, even though she expected she would be deposed – permanently excluded from any ordained ministry – after the Philadelphia ceremony.

“When the opportunity to go to the Philadelphia ordination came, I thought, well, if they toss me out, at least I’ll go witnessing to what I believe about the Gospel and about women’s appropriateness for being priests, and being true to what I believed,” she said in 2014.

Amid the heated controversy that followed the Philadelphia Eleven ordinations, Cheek was invited to celebrate the Eucharist – something no woman had ever done in any Episcopal church – at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church in Washington. But, according to the Chicago Tribune, after she preached, the local priest read a letter from the bishop saying that she was prohibited from celebrating the Eucharist, because the status of her ordination was still in question.

“It was a very dramatic service,” she told the Tribune. “You could have heard a pin drop.”

Having been blocked at that service, Cheek returned later that year, and on Nov. 10, 1974, she made history yet again, becoming the first female Episcopal priest to publicly celebrate the Eucharist in “a service that ranged from solemn prayer to joyous hugs and bursts of spontaneous applause,” as The Washington Post described it.

The Rev. Alison Cheek is featured (top left) on the Jan. 5, 1976 cover of Time.

Cheek was one of 12 American women selected as Time magazine’s 1975 People of the Year, and she was featured on the cover in clerical dress.

During the 1970s, Cheek also studied at the Washington Institute of Pastoral Psychotherapy and started her own counseling practice. After her husband’s death in 1977, she closed her practice and became co-director of a Venture in Mission fundraising program in Philadelphia. Later, she completed a Doctor of Ministry degree at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and joined the faculty as director of feminist liberation studies.

In 1996, Cheek joined the Greenfire Community and Retreat Center in Tenants Harbor, Maine, as a board member and teacher until its closure, and she served at nearby St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. She retired in 2013 to North Carolina, where she lived among friends.

“Her abiding sense of joy, her obvious intelligence, and deep passion for the Gospel of Jesus, combined with a delightful touch of mischief in her eye made her an irresistible and unforgettable presence,” recalled a friend, Elizabeth Kaeton, on Facebook. “She was a wonderful teacher and role model for the women for whom she helped make possible the actualization of their priestly vocation in The Episcopal Church. When her story is told, it will be said that we once walked among giants.”

Other members of the Philadelphia Eleven, who remained close with Cheek until her death, shared their remembrances on Facebook as well:

According to the Rev. Alla Bozarth, she is survived by six “sisters” in the Philadelphia Eleven, as well as her four children.

A memorial service is scheduled for Nov. 2 at 11 a.m. at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Brevard, North Carolina.

– 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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Hurricane Dorian threatens coast from Florida to Carolinas as Episcopalians evacuate, offer help

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 4:57pm

Christ Church on St. Simons Island in Georgia is seen boarded up in preparation for the approach of Hurricane Dorian. Photo: Christ Church, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal congregations from Florida to the Carolinas braced for the impact of Hurricane Dorian, as evacuation orders took effect in parts of the region and rain from the storm began pelting costal communities.

The hurricane, which strengthened over the weekend to a powerful Category 5 storm as it devastated the Bahamas, continued to move north in the Atlantic as a weakened but broader Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph as of the afternoon of Sept. 3. It may never make landfall in the mainland United States before heading back out to sea, but the rain and storm surge could punish a large swath of the Southeast.

On St. Simons Island in Georgia, church leaders and parishioners at Christ Church Frederica spent their long Labor Day weekend boarding up the church and securing the altar inside as Dorian approached. The Rev. Tom Purdy, the rector, and vestry member Rip Graham took their turns climbing ladders with drills in hand to put up plywood.

On some of the sheets of plywood covering the church’s windows, they scrawled Bible passages. “Be strong and courageous,” from Joshua. “He stilled the storm to a whisper and quieted the waves of the sea,” from Psalm 107. “I would hasten to escape from the stormy wind and tempest,” from Psalm 55.

A mandatory evacuation is in effect for the region of Georgia east of Interstate 95, affecting more than 200,000 residents, according to an NBC News report. More than 800,000 residents are affected by an evacuation order issued for South Carolina’s coastal counties.

The Diocese of East Carolina, which covers a third of North Carolina along the coast, is sharing information on its Hurricane Hub, which was created last year as an emergency resource during Hurricanes Florence and Michael. The Diocese of Upper South Carolina is maintaining its own webpage filled with links and information to help residents prepare for the coming hurricane.

The dioceses in the path of Dorian’s powerful wind and rain have been in contact with Episcopal Relief & Development for guidance in helping their communities respond to the storm and its aftermath. The agency also has reached out to its partners in the Bahamas to assist.

“I am encouraged to see how dioceses in the U.S. and Caribbean have prepared and mobilized ahead of Hurricane Dorian,” Katie Mears, senior director for Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program, said in a press release. “While the impact of the storm is not yet known, they are ready to provide support however needed.”

Part of that readiness comes from many years of responding to hurricanes. Storm activity has been particularly intense in recent years, with powerful hurricanes hitting all along the coast and in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico and Texas.

In the Diocese of Georgia, inland congregations are stepping up to assist as well, welcoming coastal residents who needed to evacuate their homes.

“This includes St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Tifton, Georgia, that is hosting about 40 health-care workers who evacuated with their elderly patients from a nursing home in a low-lying coastal area,” the Rev. Frank Logue, the diocese’s canon to the ordinary, told Episcopal News Service in an email. “The patients are being housed in a Tifton care facility, and the nursing home employees are staying at the church.”

Southeast Florida Bishop Peter Easton issued a statement over the weekend that noted how the storm’s predicted track had moved away from the Florida coast but would still bring the threat of dangerous flooding to parts of the diocese.

“It continues to be important to take all necessary precautions, to ensure the safety of people and to follow all official advisories and orders,” Eaton said in his Aug. 31 message.

On Sept. 3, Eaton emailed the diocese again with a “Hurricane Appeal,” asking Episcopalians to turn their attention to supporting the people of the Bahamas. He set a goal of raising $50,000 to give to the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Bahamas for relief efforts. Winds there reached 180 mph, and at least five people are reported dead and thousands of homes destroyed.

“Our immediate action will allow [the bishop to] direct critical help to individuals and families in the Abacos and Grand Bahama,” Eaton said. “The bishop and his colleagues can reach people at this point in ways that no one or no other agency can, and our response will enable him to reach out with practical and life-saving help.”

Others interested in contributing to Episcopal Relief & Development’s hurricane relief fund can do so online here.

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

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Diocese’s reversal on same-sex marriage paved way for Pete Buttigieg’s wedding at South Bend cathedral

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 11:12am

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, left, kisses Chasten Glezman following their wedding on June 16, 2018, outside the Cathedral of St. James. Photo: Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP

[Episcopal News Service] Before Pete Buttigieg was a leading Democratic presidential candidate, he was a groom sitting nervously next to his soon-to-be husband in the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, Indiana.

On that hot June afternoon in 2018, Buttigieg and Chasten Glezman became the third gay couple to marry in the Episcopal cathedral, ceremonies that were possible only after Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks in his first year lifted a diocesan prohibition on same-sex marriage rites. As mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg also was one of the most prominent grooms to be married at the cathedral, but the conventions of the altar can humble any man. The 37-year-old mayor describes in his memoir how he “fought to get the words of the vow out before my emotions could stop me.”

The Very Rev. Brian Grantz, dean of St. James, also remembers feeling a powerful emotion that day as he prepared to preside at the wedding: “Terror,” Grantz told Episcopal News Service, with a laugh and only a hint of exaggeration.

The security precautions were unprecedented for a St. James wedding, Grantz said, both because the mayor was atop the program and because same-sex marriage remained divisive in Indiana, a solidly red state in the politically purple Midwest. The couple’s guest list was strictly enforced at the cathedral doors. Reporters weren’t allowed inside, though they and the rest of the world were invited to watch the ceremony live on the cathedral’s YouTube channel.

That high-profile sacramental moment occurred as The Episcopal Church was turning a corner in welcoming LGBTQ Episcopalians after decades of debate over sexuality, though progress marched at an uneven pace. While Buttigieg has spoken openly about his faith, sexuality and marriage on the campaign trail, his diocese, until recently, was one of the most restrictive in The Episcopal Church.

Under Bishop Edward Little, same-sex marriage rites weren’t allowed within the diocese’s geographic boundaries, though Northern Indiana clergy were permitted to preside at same-sex weddings in other dioceses. Sparks adopted a more permissive policy in December 2016, after succeeding Little earlier that year. Since then, St. James is one of about a dozen congregations out of 34 in the Diocese of Northern Indiana that have chosen to offer the same-sex rites or are on that path. And in July 2018, a month after Buttigieg’s wedding, The Episcopal Church’s General Convention passed a resolution aimed at ensuring marriage equality churchwide.

Grantz would be the last to cast himself as an “apologist for same-sex marriage” – others are much more articulate in that role, he said. A wedding preacher’s audience isn’t just the couple being married but also the community that will welcome them as a married couple, Grantz said, and knowing that Buttigieg’s wedding would draw attention far beyond South Bend, he told ENS he also felt compelled in his sermon to affirm to the outside world that this union is blessed in the eyes of God.

Chasten Glezman and Pete Buttigieg pose for a wedding day photo with Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks, left, and the Very Rev. Brian Krantz, right, dean of the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, Indiana. Photo: Diocese of Northern Indiana

“Love lives in the space between us,” Grantz said in his 15-minute sermon, which briefly referenced Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the 2015 Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Excerpts from that court decision also were among the readings Buttigieg and Glezman chose for their wedding.

“Today we hold up their life together as an icon, a window through which we can peer into the realm of God’s hope and will and intention,” Grantz said, “not only for Pete and Chasten, but for all of us and for the whole world. You are beloved of God and you were made for one another.”

The video of the ceremony has been viewed more than 20,000 times, but not all of the attention focused on the cathedral has been positive. After the wedding, Grantz began fielding voicemail messages, emails and letters attacking the church for its stance on gay marriage. The criticisms continued this year and tend to rise as Buttigieg makes national news, such as when he announced in January that he was exploring a possible presidential run. Buttigieg still finds time to make it to the cathedral’s services every few weeks, sometimes with his mother.

“People associate Pete with St. James,” Grantz said. That doesn’t surprise him, given Buttigieg’s ability to speak forcefully about his faith and how it underpins his call to public service. “It absolutely makes sense, just kind of in terms of who Pete is and the way he approaches life.”

And though the church’s same-sex marriage rites are relatively new, its core beliefs haven’t changed, Grantz said. “This is who we’ve been for a long time.”

He expressed “a weariness” at needing to make that point over and over to those who attack the church.

As for Episcopalians in Northern Indiana, Grantz said they hold a mix of conservative and progressive views on a range of issues but generally have grown to “coexist around a vision of Jesus and a hope that is beyond any one of our experiences of faith.”

Pete Buttigieg greets diners at Revolution Taproom and Grill during a campaign stop in Rochester, New Hampshire in July 2019. Buttigieg’s openness about his faith has contributed to his rise to the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates. Photo: Reuters

‘We were welcome’

South Bend, the seat of the diocese, is a Rust Belt city of about 100,000 residents near the Michigan state line. Home to the University of Notre Dame, it has been a city in decline since Studebaker shut down its car-manufacturing operations in South Bend in 1963, and economic rebirth has been a top political challenge for Buttigieg since he was elected mayor in 2011 at age 29.

The young mayor and formal naval officer has always called South Bend home. He has called The Episcopal Church his spiritual home for just the past decade.

Buttigieg was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church as a boy and attended a Catholic high school, but “by the time I was an adult I didn’t view myself as Catholic,” he said in an interview with CNN. His father was Catholic, but his mother “identified more with the Anglican faith.” He began attending Anglican services in England while studying as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, and upon returning to South Bend about 10 years ago, he started attending services at St. James.

“It was a mix of faith but also of community that really made it the right place to be. And, of course, the fact that we were welcome,” he said.

The diocese’s spirit of welcome has evolved markedly but gradually during Buttigieg’s lifetime. Grantz has witnessed much of that evolution firsthand since 1988, when he began serving as youth ministries coordinator under Bishop Francis Gray. At that time, women were not allowed to serve as priests in Northern Indiana despite General Convention’s approval of the ordination of women back in 1976.

Gray’s views generally reflected the more conservative side of the diocese, Grantz said, though in 1990 the bishop shifted course and began ordaining women to the priesthood.

Bishop Edward Little led the Diocese of Northern Indiana from 2000 to 2016.

Diocesan leadership remained conservative when Little was consecrated as bishop in 2000, and in 2003, when General Convention faced the threat of a split in the church over whether to ordain the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Little spoke in opposition in the House of Bishops.

“If we confirm Gene Robinson as a bishop of the church, the unity of this house will be shattered forever,” Little said. Despite the objections of Little and other conservatives, a majority of bishops consented and Robinson was approved as bishop of New Hampshire.

Little also blocked diocesan clergy from blessing same-sex unions based on a liturgy endorsed by General Convention in 2012, though he acknowledged then that some in his diocese “yearn” for such a liturgy.

Gay couples won the right to civil marriage in Indiana by court decision in 2014, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court extended marriage equality nationwide.   Mere days after the Supreme Court ruling, General Convention made trial-use marriage rites available for same-sex couples – but only on approval of each diocesan bishop. Little and eight other conservative bishops refused.

Little, in an interview for this story, said he respected Episcopalians who held views different from his own. He saw his willingness to allow clergy to travel outside his diocese to perform the rites as something of a compromise.

A pedestrian walks downtown in South Bend, Indiana, a Rust Belt city that is showing signs of life after decades of economic decline. Photo: Reuters

“Even during my time as bishop of Northern Indiana, the diocese really was quite diverse in terms of where people came down” on such issues, Little said. Whether conservative or progressive, “it was important to see ourselves as linked together in Jesus.”

Grantz spoke highly of Little personally. “He is as genuine as the day is long, and you could always disagree with Ed and that was OK, as long as you were clear about your position,” he said.

Some in the diocese, however, were growing frustrated with Little’s positions.

“LGBTQ Christians in Northern Indiana were making their voices heard more and more, and they really were crying out for an equal place at the table,” Grantz said.

Change in leadership opens a door

Sparks was elected bishop on Feb. 6, 2016.  He previously served as rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Rochester, Minnesota, where his congregation spent more than a year in discernment before deciding to welcome same-sex couples interested in marrying in the church.

“Not every decision is best made by taking an up or down vote. … I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes listening and prayerfully engaging in education and reflection and prayer over a period of time can lead to a consensus that would not have even been imagined possible,” Sparks told ENS.

Grantz, who has served as cathedral dean for the past 11 years, describes Sparks as an “activist,” a bishop who feels comfortable participating in protests and marches but also one who is “very clear scripturally,” careful to ground his advocacy in his faith.

“The diocese was really not used to that,” Grantz said, but Sparks never tried to hide that side of himself as a candidate for bishop. Most of the candidates fell on the more progressive side of social issues, Grantz said. “I think Doug was pretty clear about that. But if you weren’t listening, you didn’t get it.”

Sparks spent his first six months as bishop in discernment on the diocese’s policy toward same-sex marriage before issuing his letter in December 2016 that outlined a “consensus process” for congregations to offer the rites to couples who request them. Before taking that step, the rector, wardens and vestry would solicit input from parishioners. At the same time, Sparks highlighted canonical law that gives individual clergy members the discretion “to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage.”

“I take seriously our baptismal commitment to respect the dignity of every human being which includes honoring the theological diversity among us,” Sparks wrote.

Back while Little was still bishop, Grantz had approached one longtime couple in his congregation, Paul Hochstetler and Randy Colburn, and asked if they were interested in traveling north a few miles so he could marry them in “the next church up the road,” in the Diocese of Western Michigan, based on Little’s compromise policy. They declined.

“We had always though it would be nice to get married in what had become our home parish, so we didn’t really want to go someplace else to do that,” Hochstetler, 74, said in an interview with ENS.

After Sparks opened the door, Hochstetler and Colburn reached out to Grantz to ask about the possibility. It was a simple service, but Hochstetler and Colburn still felt part of “something special and momentous” on Dec. 30, 2017, when they became the first gay couple to marry at Cathedral of St. James.

Many people from the congregation attended. “The support, it was very gratifying,” Hochstetler said. “We felt very uplifted.”

Six months later, after Buttigieg’s and Glezman’s wedding, a protester began standing outside the cathedral every Sunday holding anti-gay signs. Grantz describes him as harmless, but the cathedral also has fallen victim to minor vandalism – a flag pulled down, human waste left on the steps – as well as the barrage of hate mail. The messages are scanned for threatening content and then discarded.

Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Glezman, attend a rally on April 14, to announce Buttigieg’s candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Photo: Reuters

Other responses to Buttigieg’s wedding and his defense of it on the campaign trail have been filled with hope.

The Rev. Steven Paulikas, a New York rector who wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times about Buttigieg, told ENS his social media feeds filled with positive reactions to the mayor’s wedding, “an interesting overlap of church friends and LGBT friends.”

“It was a high-profile same-sex wedding in an Episcopal cathedral,” said Paulikas, who married his husband in 2014. “It was nice to see visibility in a place that wasn’t one of the usual suspects of where queer things happen.”

Paulikas, 40, grew up in Michigan and, like Buttigieg, didn’t begin identifying publicly as gay until well after college. In his New York Times piece, Paulikas said he initially “resolved to push my sexuality as deep down from view as I could” to follow his calling to the priesthood. “Yet it was my church that ultimately coaxed me out into the fullness of the person God created me to be.”

“That’s what’s so exciting and lifegiving about what our church is doing right now,” Paulikas told ENS. He was ordained in 2008 and now serves at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. “All this change has actually happened very quickly. Maybe not quickly enough for some people.”

Buttigieg, one of two Episcopalians running for the Democratic nomination, defended his marriage in a speech in April to an LGBTQ political action group. By that time, Buttigieg was drawing increased national attention as much for his faith as for his sexuality. He addressed part of the speech to Vice President Mike Pence, a conservative Christian who opposed same-sex marriage as Indiana’s governor.

“My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God,” Buttigieg said. “If you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

It was a statement that contained echoes of his wedding day. Buttigieg, in his memoir, recalls Grantz’s “moving sermon, assuring us that we were made for one another by God.”

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

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Despite setbacks, The Episcopal Church and Alaska Natives step up fight against drilling in Arctic refuge

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 12:50pm

The Porcupine Caribou Herd in the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain, with the Brooks Range mountains in the distance to the south. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

[Episcopal News Service] For Bernadette Demientieff, rediscovering her identity as a Gwich’in – one of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic – meant reconnecting with the land. Specifically, a mountain called Duchanlee near Arctic Village, Alaska, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a place that holds deep significance to her people.

“When I went there, I don’t know what came over me,” she told the Episcopal News Service. “I just started crying.”

“I lost my identity after high school,” she said. “I kind of went down the wrong path.”

But on that mountain, something changed.

“And right there, I asked Creator for forgiveness, for being disconnected so long, but that I’m here now to share my responsibility as a Gwich’in,” she said.

Bernadette Demientieff speaks on July 10, 2018, at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

For Demientieff, that responsibility includes protecting the lands and animals that have sustained her people for thousands of years. Now 43, she is a central figure in the coalition of Gwich’in, Episcopalians and conservationists that has fought to prevent industrial development from disrupting the ecology of the refuge’s most sensitive area. She is the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which calls itself “the unified voice of the Gwich’in Nation speaking out to protect the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” from the oil industry. She is also a member of The Episcopal Church’s Task Force on Care of Creation and Environmental Racism and has spoken to the House of Bishops and the General Convention about the importance of protecting the refuge.

Demientieff plans to be in Washington in September to advocate for an expected House of Representatives floor vote to restore protections for the Coastal Plain, which was opened to drilling by Congress in 2017 despite decades of vocal opposition from the Gwich’in, The Episcopal Church and many other groups from around Alaska and the U.S.

Now, with the prospect of drilling in the refuge closer to reality than ever, Episcopal and Gwich’in leaders say they’re not giving up — especially in the face of the climate crisis, which is already wreaking environmental havoc in Alaska.

“It’s not over,” Demientieff told ENS. “It just started.”

The Sacred Place Where Life Begins

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which occupies the northeast corner of Alaska, is so vast it’s difficult to comprehend. At 19.6 million acres – about the size of South Carolina – it is the largest wildlife refuge in the United States, stretching from the forests of Alaska’s Interior across the Brooks Range to the Coastal Plain tundra, all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

Image: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The refuge has been inhabited by Native peoples for thousands of years. The Iñupiaq live along Alaska’s northern coast, while the Gwich’in have traditionally inhabited an area that includes the interior of the refuge and stretches east into Canada. Besides the Iñupiaq village of Kaktovik on the Arctic coast and the Gwich’in settlement of Arctic Village on the refuge’s southern boundary, there are virtually no traces of human activity in the massive refuge.

Mountain ranges and waterways in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

In fact, the area the Gwich’in have been trying to protect from drilling – the Coastal Plain – is not part of their ancestral homeland. Although the Gwich’in traditionally followed the Porcupine caribou herds during their seasonal migrations around the region, the “one place that the caribou go that we do not is the Coastal Plain,” Demientieff testified during a congressional hearing in March.

But the reason they have avoided the area for so long is the same reason they are trying to protect it now: The Coastal Plain is where the caribou go to give birth and nurse their calves every summer.

Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

“This area is sacred to our people,” Demientieff testified, “so sacred that during the years of food shortage we still honored the calving grounds and never stepped foot on the Coastal Plain.”

The Porcupine Caribou Herd – named after the Porcupine River – is crucial to the culture of the Gwich’in, and to their very existence. Life in the Gwich’in villages revolves around the subsistence economy – hunting caribou, fishing and gathering. All but one of the Gwich’in villages are isolated from the state road system, so whatever food and supplies are flown in from elsewhere tend to be about three times as expensive as they are in a typical Lower 48 supermarket: A gallon of milk at a village store in a place like Fort Yukon or Arctic Village costs at least $10, as does a gallon of gas, and when something like a watermelon makes a rare appearance, it can go for around $40. If the caribou’s breeding or migration patterns were disrupted, there would be few other options for affordable food.

The Porcupine caribou have the longest land migration of any animal in the world, traveling more than 1,500 miles per year from their wintering grounds in the Interior to the Coastal Plain, which the Gwich’in call “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” – “the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

Open for business

That same area, however, has attracted the interest of the fossil fuel industry for decades because it could contain massive oil deposits. The Prudhoe Bay oil field, by far the largest in North America, sits on the coast to the west of the refuge . Its discovery in the 1960s radically altered the economic, demographic and cultural makeup of Alaska. It has also forever changed the landscape; what was once an unspoiled frontier along the Arctic Ocean is now a hub of heavy industry.

Some of the industrial facilities at the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field. Photo: Peter Prokosch/GRID-Arendal

Today, the oil and gas industry provides over one-third of Alaska’s jobs and about 90 percent of the state’s revenue. Because of Alaska’s reliance on the oil and gas industry, the state economy since the 1970s has been a series of dramatic booms and busts. The state once had so much oil revenue flowing in that it literally didn’t know what to do with it, so it set up a fund that continues to pay each citizen a dividend of around $1,000 every year. But oil production at Prudhoe Bay has slowed, and since prices plummeted in 2015, the state has been steadily shedding revenue, residents and jobs. Alaska now has the highest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 6.3 percent in July. On Aug. 27, BP – which has been in Alaska for 60 years and operates the Prudhoe Bay oil field – shocked the state by announcing it will sell all of its Alaska assets, the latest sign of turmoil in the industry. With legislators refusing to implement a state income or sales tax, the state has blown through billions of dollars in savings and has been embroiled in a budget crisis for several years. This summer, a drawn-out political battle has erupted over Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s severe budget cuts, including a proposed 40 percent cut to the University of Alaska system.

The prospect of a large oil field beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain – bringing with it the jobs and revenue that Alaska desperately needs – has made opening it up to development a top priority for the state’s congressional delegation for decades. When the refuge was created, the “1002 area” – 1.5 million acres of the refuge’s Coastal Plain – was set aside for possible development, which required congressional authorization.

Nearly 50 times, Republicans tried and failed to unlock the 1002 area. But in December 2017, a provision to open the area to drilling was tucked into the tax bill signed by President Donald Trump. It appeared that the coalition of the Gwich’in, The Episcopal Church and environmentalists had lost the battle.

‘This is our family’

The Episcopal Church, through its Washington-based Office of Government Relations and the Diocese of Alaska, has been a leader in that fight for decades because of its deep historical connection to the Gwich’in people and its broader commitments to environmental protection and indigenous rights.

The link between the Gwich’in and The Episcopal Church dates back to the 19th century, when Episcopal and Anglican missionaries brought Christianity to the Gwich’in. One of those missionaries, Robert McDonald, created the written form of the Gwich’in language and translated the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

Rowe Chapel, the Episcopal church in Arctic Village, Alaska. Photo: Diocese of Alaska

“In Alaska, where The Episcopal Church began to take root was in Gwich’in country,” said Alaska Bishop Mark Lattime. “And so, as a diocese, we have recognized that this is our family. These are our people. And we have wanted to do what we can to stand and walk with them and support them.”

The coalition of The Episcopal Church, the Gwich’in Steering Committee and the Alaska Wilderness League has been a constant presence at congressional hearings for years, most recently on March 26 at a heated hearing on a bill that would have repealed the refuge-opening provision in the 2017 tax law. Lattime and Demientieff both testified in support.

Gwich’in clergy and Alaska Bishop Mark Lattime (top right) gather for a photo at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Fairbanks in June 2014, after a Eucharist celebrated in a dialect of the Gwich’in language. Photo courtesy of Scott Fisher.

Back in Alaska, Lattime has spoken and prayed at rallies and public forums and participated in a TV ad campaign. He said he tries to be as helpful as he can to the Gwich’in’s cause without speaking for them.

“We’ve been very careful and intentional to listen to their voices and to follow their lead and do what we can to respond as they have asked us to do,” he said.

Although the opening of the refuge was a major blow, the situation is still evolving. With Democrats now controlling the House of Representatives, hearings like the one in March offer new opportunities for advocacy. The Interior Department says lease sales will begin by the end of this year, but the combination of regulatory hurdles and volatility in the price of oil means it could be many years before any drilling happens. It’s also possible that the 1002 area contains much less oil than was originally speculated, making it economically unviable to drill there. For now, the Office of Government Relations continues to advocate for legislation that would at least introduce new restrictions on drilling in the refuge, such as a provision that would require oil lease sales in the Coastal Plain to be priced high enough to produce the revenues anticipated by the 2017 tax bill, which is much higher than what the current market value would be, according to domestic and environmental policy adviser Jack Cobb.

The Episcopal Church’s efforts on environmental protection and climate justice go beyond its Capitol Hill advocacy. At the 2015 General Convention, a resolution directed the church’s Executive Council Investment Committee to divest from fossil fuels “in a fiscally responsible manner.” Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Kurt Barnes estimates the church’s portfolio now has about 2 percent exposure to the fossil fuel industry. However, that resolution did not apply to the much larger Church Pension Fund. In its report to last year’s General Convention, the Church Pension Group said it is not opposed to divestment but can only do it if it doesn’t interfere with its fiduciary responsibilities. CPG does not disclose the amounts of specific securities in its portfolio, but says it is focused on socially responsible investing and shareholder advocacy, said Curt Ritter, CPG senior vice president and head of corporate communications.

Demientieff’s approach going forward is more direct.

“I will stand up even until the first oil rig goes in,” Demientieff said.

An uncertain future

Alaska Natives are not universally opposed to drilling in the refuge, though. Among the Iñupiaq people who live on the Coastal Plain, there is strong support for increased oil and gas development. Unlike the Gwich’in, the Iñupiaq benefit from the industry in the form of local tax revenues, corporate dividends, better village infrastructure and local jobs. Those who support drilling in the Coastal Plain say development there would be safer and leave a much smaller footprint than it has in Prudhoe Bay. At the same hearing where Lattime and Demientieff testified in support of protecting the Coastal Plain, several Iñupiaq witnesses testified against it.

Caribou walk across a gravel pad at Kuparuk, 45 miles from Prudhoe Bay, with oilfield facilities in the background. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

“I’m not trying to take jobs from anybody,” Demientieff told ENS. “I’m not trying to tell anybody what to do. But honestly, that is considered federal land regardless of who lives right beside it. And just because I don’t live close to it does not mean that I will not be impacted by what happens there.”

And by perpetuating the burning of fossil fuels, drilling in the refuge would contribute to the effects of the climate crisis that are being felt more severely in Alaska than almost anywhere else. The state has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the U.S. in the past 60 years, with average winter temperatures rising by six degrees Fahrenheit during that time, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Amid record-high temperatures, the sea ice that once protected coastal villages from erosion has dramatically retreated, causing problems for Native subsistence hunters who need sea ice to hunt seals, whales and walruses. Permafrost beneath villages is thawing rapidly, causing land to sink and often leading to erosion. Entire villages are moving to higher ground. Warm water is causing salmon die-offs, threatening a major source of the state’s food supply and economic base. Wildfires are becoming an increasingly common threat.

A section of coastal bluff, with visible permafrost, collapses at Drew Point on Alaska’s North Slope. Photo: Benjamin Jones/U.S. Geological Survey

“All the elders that I interview and talk to, they’ve never seen anything like this before,” Demientieff said.

The Rev. Trimble Gilbert speaks at a meal in Nenana, Alaska, during the House of Bishops’ visit in 2017. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

One of those elders, the Rev. Trimble Gilbert, has lived in Arctic Village for nearly all his 84 years. An Episcopal priest and traditional chief, Gilbert has a unique perspective on climate change, combining his own experience with stories passed down from his ancestors. He can point to specific examples: polar bears moving into villages in search of food, fish being gone where they used to be plentiful.

“I could see a lot of change [in the] last 30 years,” he told ENS. “It’s gonna be a pretty sad place in the next 50 years, if they’re gonna [drill] … I could see it now. So I hope they can stop and protect the land.”

In the meantime, he finds solace in living off the land, as his ancestors did, and he tries to keep those traditions alive.

“We still try to live our traditional way of life, sharing and taking care of each other almost every day,” he said.

Demientieff says her spirituality and maintaining a traditional way of life also sustains her in the fight.

“I take the time to pray every morning,” she told ENS, adding that she needs it just as much as food or sleep. “When I don’t stay strong in prayer … it’s draining.”

“God gave us this land to take care of,” Demientieff said. We should be taking care of our blessings. We should always take care of what God put in our hands to take care of for him, not to drill it and destroy it.”

– 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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Church of England bishops issue open letter on Brexit

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 4:33pm

[Church of England] A group of Church of England bishops has issued an open letter on the prospect of a “no-deal” Brexit and the need for national reconciliation, notwithstanding the potential prorogation of Parliament.

The archbishop of Canterbury has conditionally agreed to chair a Citizens Forum in Coventry and, without prejudice for any particular outcome, we support this move to have all voices in the current Brexit debate heard.

However, we also have particular concerns about the potential cost of a No Deal Brexit to those least resilient to economic shocks.

The full text can be found here.

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Episcopal dioceses, organizations join lawsuit against Trump’s border wall

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 3:38pm

[Episcopal News Service] The dioceses of Long Island and Western Massachusetts, as well as Trinity Church Wall Street and Boston-based Episcopal City Mission, have joined a lawsuit that seeks to stop President Donald Trump from redirecting federal funds to build a wall on the United States’ southern border.

They and 71 other religious organizations, led by the Muslim Bar Association of New York, entered an amici curiae (or “friends of the court”) brief dated Aug. 22 in support of the lawsuit, which was filed in February by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition. The suit challenges Trump’s use of emergency powers to divert funds marked for other purposes to construct a border wall after Congress refused to appropriate $5.7 billion for it. The emergency powers that Trump invoked only apply to military construction projects that are necessary to support the armed forces, the Sierra Club says.

The amici brief expresses the religious groups’ concern that Trump’s use of emergency powers to access funds without congressional approval sets a dangerous precedent.

“President Trump’s effort to build a wall is targeted at a specific disfavored group, namely immigrants entering the United States through the southern border. But the risks of an unchecked executive with access to unlimited funds to implement its agenda are shared by all potentially-disfavored groups. … all amici are justly concerned that the president will, if permitted, use his newfound power to re-direct appropriations to impinge on the rights of religious minorities,” the brief says.

The bishops of Long Island and Western Massachusetts expressed their views on Trump’s actions in brief statements of interest.

“The Bishop of the Diocese fully supports this effort for a permanent injunction to stop the administration (federal government) from mis-directing and illegally using Defense Department and Treasury funds to construct an immoral, impractical and useless border wall,” the statement from the Diocese of Long Island says. “The administration’s fixation with constructing this wall is representative of the administration’s sinful and unlawful scapegoating of asylum seekers to promote an un-American, protectionist, nationalist agenda. It must not be allowed to happen.”

The Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher, bishop of Western Massachusetts, also combined concerns about the legality of Trump’s emergency declaration and the morality of his administration’s treatment of immigrants in his statement.

“The president’s use of government funds for building the southern border wall is a clear violation of the Congress’ power of the purse. The situation at our southern border may quite rightly be seen as a crisis as the president’s policy shifts have stranded asylum seekers in Mexico for an indeterminate time. The impact of his change to national policy has endangered the lives of people who seek safety here. What has been done to the children under orders from the President, is immoral and an affront to human dignity,” Fisher wrote on behalf of his diocese.

Two other Episcopal organizations known for their public advocacy also signed onto the brief.

“President Trump’s decision to build a wall with government funding targets those people with whom we are most called to demonstrate solidarity,” Episcopal City Mission, which facilitates action on various social justice issues in Massachusetts, wrote in its statement.

Trinity Church Wall Street, in addition to outlining its opposition to Trump’s emergency declaration, listed the actions it has taken to support immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including organizing trips to the border, convening a conference about migration, advocating for detention center reform, supporting individual asylum seekers and participating in rallies and vigils, such as an overnight “tent city” in Trinity’s churchyard.

The other 71 organizations who signed the brief represented Jews, Muslims and Christians of many denominations, as well as Unitarian Universalists and interfaith groups.

Construction crews continue work on the new border wall system along the SW border near San Luis, AZ. In partnership with @USACEHQ, CBP has constructed over 60 miles of new border wall system along the SW border since 2017 and expects to complete 450 miles by the end of 2020. pic.twitter.com/ZMVqVteMUN

— CBP (@CBP) August 25, 2019

In July, the Supreme Court ruled that construction of the border wall could begin as litigation continued. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 60 miles of the wall have been completed as of Aug. 24, 13 percent of what Trump promised to build by the end of 2020. However, Axios reported that all the new construction merely replaced pre-existing walls and fences.

– 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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New leader of the Anglican Church of Canada foresees a time of change

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 1:30pm

Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. Photo: Milos Posic/Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal] The Anglican Church of Canada’s new primate says her top priority will be a review of the church’s mission and ministry — a re-examination of its role that could result in “painful” change for some as the church adjusts to challenging times.

Linda Nicholls, bishop of the diocese of Huron, was elected the church’s 14th primate in Vancouver on July 13, partway through General Synod. She is the first woman in the history of the Anglican Church of Canada to hold the position.

Read the full article here.

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San Diego congregation celebrates Congolese family’s reunion with father as asylum case looms

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 4:07pm

Constantin Bakala is reunited with his wife and seven children at San Diego International Airport in California on Aug. 19. Photo: Marc L. Lieberman

[Episcopal News Service] A Congolese asylum seeker who had been separated on the U.S. border from his wife and seven children and held in federal detention for nearly two years reunited with his family last week in California. On Aug. 25 they celebrated his release with the Episcopal congregation that has rallied behind Constantin Bakala and his family.

“The joy that I feel right now, I have no words for it,” Bakala said in French, according to a KPBS report on the Sunday afternoon celebration at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Diego.

Bakala and his family still could be sent back to their native Congo, which they fled under threat of persecution and violence. But for now, they are rejoicing that Bakala was granted parole and released to await the outcome of the case with the rest of his family.

Until last week, his wife and children hadn’t seen Bakala since November 2017, when the family arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, and requested asylum at the border, as prescribed by U.S. law. Bakala’s wife, Annie Bwetu Kapongo, was required to wear an ankle monitor so she could be released with her children while their cases were pending, but Bakala was detained and held at a series of immigration facilities.

As the family kept in contact with Bakala by phone, Kapongo and the children were welcomed at St. Luke’s. Some of the children, ages 6 to 17, began serving as acolytes and singing in the choir, the Rev. Colin Mathewson, the vicar, told Episcopal News Service in March. The congregation, which he co-pastors with his wife, the Rev. Laurel Mathewson, is a mix of native-born Americans, Sudanese immigrant families and newer Congolese refugees.

Bakala had been aligned with an opposition political party that promoted democratic reforms in Congo, where government security forces are accused of abuses against civilians amid a growing humanitarian crisis. Bakala fears he will be killed if he is sent back, Colin Mathewson said.

The congregation rejoiced with the family in March when Bakala won a stay of deportation while federal officials considered a request to reopen his asylum case. The congregation cheered again after Bakala arrived Aug. 19 at San Diego International Airport and hugged his wife and children for the first time in 20 months.

His daughter, Marie Louise Bakala, told KGTV it was a wish come true to have him back in time for her 18th birthday next month.

“I am really grateful to God and to all those people who are helping me and my family to be together,” she said.

With the asylum case moved to California, the family is waiting for a trial date, KGTV reported.

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

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Prayer book for prisoners published by ELCA with contributions from Episcopal priest

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 3:18pm

“Hear My Voice” was developed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for use by prisoners and those who support them. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] A prayer book that was developed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with contributions from an Episcopal priest aims to bring hope and spiritual guidance to inmates in jail and prison.

Hear My Voice” was introduced this month at the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a written endorsement from Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. This pocket-size resource contains prayers for a range of scenarios behind bars, from celebrating Easter to asking God to console a prisoner’s victims.

Far from producing a bleak or judgmental text, the contributors to “Hear My Voice” brought a spirit of reconciliation and healing to their work on the book, which is published by the ELCA’s Augsburg Fortress.

“I think culturally, socially, we lock people up and we forget about them, and we often don’t think of them any longer as fully human,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Bingham, an Episcopal priest in Michigan who wrote two of the prayer book’s sections. She explained that her experience working with inmate re-entry ministries made clear to her that prisoners are “children created in the image of God, just like everybody. We all are.”

The Rev. Elizabeth Bingham is associate rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, Michigan. Photo: St. John’s Episcopal Church

Bingham, who serves as associate rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, Michigan, was one of nine contributors to “Hear My Voice.” The others included current and former inmates, and all have some connection to prison ministries. It was edited by the Rev. Mitzi Budde, a Lutheran deacon and professor at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.

“As the church, we are called to accompany those in prison and their families. Jesus says that whenever we visit someone in prison, we’re visiting Jesus himself,” Budde said in an online post, referencing Matthew 25:40 while introducing the prison prayer book.

The book’s 240 pages are broken into several main parts, starting with prayers for liturgical seasons. Bingham wrote the section for Easter, and other seasonal sections cover Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Pentecost. Each of those sections includes a mantra, or short prayer, followed by a Scripture reading, a reflection, a quote, a question to ponder and finally a prayer and song.

Another part offers morning, evening and night prayers. Bingham contributed a “Liturgy of Healing and Hope,” which is included in the book among prayers intended for groups of prisoners.

Prisoners also are encouraged to pray “through ordinary days” with short paragraphs of prayer written for daily life behind bars: prayers for cellmates, friends and enemies; prayers for prison chaplains and officers; prayers to assuage the hurt of missing family members and milestones. One prayer is intended to be said by an inmate who is unable to say goodbye to or attend the funeral of a loved one who dies.

“In a system full of rejection and short on compassion, we want you to see yourself as God sees you, and to know deep in your bones that God delights in you,” the prayer book’s introduction says. “God loves you unconditionally! The most basic way for any of us to receive God’s deep and constant love is through the practice of prayer.”

The book was developed as part of the implementation of an ELCA social statement from 2013 that called on Lutheran congregations to support and minister to people who are incarcerated. The Episcopal Church’s General Convention has passed its own resolutions in recent years urging Episcopalians to do the same, and more recently, the church has stepped up its calls for reforms to end the United States’ system of mass incarceration.

More than 2 million people are behind bars in American prisons and jails, making for a large potential readership for the ELCA’s prison prayer book. The book costs $9.50, or $8.50 for bulk orders, and congregations are invited to buy copies to give to prisoners directly or through jail and prison chaplains. The ELCA also issued guidance for distributing the book, noting the challenge of navigating correctional facility policies and procedures.

Bingham said in an interview with Episcopal News Service that she plans to encourage congregations in the Diocese of Michigan to purchase copies, either to give to prisoners or to deepen their open prayer life in solidarity with prisoners.

Her experience with jail ministries began at a city jail re-entry unit in Washington, D.C., around 2013, and she continued meeting with inmates while attending Virginia Theological Seminary until graduating in 2017. It changed her perception of incarcerated people. She said she grew to understand them as “some lovely human beings” who wanted to improve their lives in the face of daunting challenges.

“They surprised me in some ways and filled me with hope and optimism,” Bingham said. “I feel like I met Jesus again and again and again through these men.”

Budde was one of Bingham’s seminary professors, and when Budde was assigned to edit the ELCA’s prison prayer book, she reached out to Bingham for help. The team of contributors met in April 2018 at the ELCA’s headquarters in Chicago and spent two days talking about what the book should look like.

They left that meeting with the structure for the book and a table of contents, and each contributor was assigned segments. Throughout the rest of the year, Bingham, Budde and the others worked on their drafts, which they shared with each other online. They met in person once more to go over each contributor’s work, offering suggestions and encouragement, and after returning home, they worked on their final drafts.

Ecumenical and interreligious officers, including from The Episcopal Church, pose for a group photo Aug. 8 at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They had gathered in support of the ELCA’s “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment,” which passed later in the day. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton lauded the result as a “grace-filled book” and “a tangible sign of God’s vision of connection and wholeness even in the midst of isolation and brokenness.”

“The ELCA is grateful that our ecumenical partners, especially The Episcopal Church, are interested in this prayer book,” Eaton said in a letter introducing the book at the Churchwide Assembly. “May it be a resource that helps foster shared cooperation in the church’s ministry with those doing time, those beginning re-entry, and their families and friends.”

Bingham said the collaborative process went remarkably smoothly, and she felt no disadvantages being an Episcopal priest working on a Lutheran project.

“We’re so close, with being in communion with the ELCA,” she said. “Our language is similar, our theology is really similar, and I learned a lot about the Lutheran Church.”

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

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Breakaway Catholic parish declines Episcopal affiliation over property rights concerns

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 2:57pm

[Diocese of Missouri] Leaders at St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri, have informed Episcopal Diocese of Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith that they will no longer pursue an affiliation with the diocese. This news comes just one week after nearly 60 percent of parishioners of the independent Catholic parish voted in favor of the union.

This course change follows word from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s office that The Episcopal Church would not waive property rights in the event of any legal contest in the future. St. Stanislaus Board of Directors Chairwoman Donna Nachefski said that is not acceptable to the parish, “unless and until the parishioners clearly request it.”

“While we regret that we are not able to come together in one diocese at this time, we are convinced that our shared values, sacramental practices and commitment to spread the Good News of God’s love to all will allow us to continue our cooperation,” Nachefski wrote in a letter to Smith.

The Rev. Marek Bozek, left, and Bishop Wayne Smith at St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish Catholic Parish in St. Louis, Mo., on Aug. 4, 2019. Photo: Diocese of Missouri

Although he knew the issue of property rights would be a stumbling block, Smith said he had hoped to be able to work out an agreement. He said the presiding bishop’s office did not want to set a precedent by waiving property claims with St. Stanislaus because of ongoing litigation elsewhere. “This is a disappointment for me, but does not end my own friendship with the parish,” said Smith.

The Rev. Marek Bozek, pastor at St. Stanislaus, echoed the bishop’s sentiments. “In spite of this challenging situation, I hope that our parish and the Diocese of Missouri will continue to cooperate and strengthen the bonds of friendship between two communities sharing the same vision and values. Our city needs such a unified witness of people of faith,” Bozek said.

St. Stanislaus broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in 2005 following authority disputes with the Archdiocese of St. Louis. A legal settlement in 2013 allowed St. Stanislaus to become an independent Catholic Church and affirmed the parish’s ownership of their church building and property in St. Louis’ Carr Square neighborhood.

The congregation began talking with the Diocese of Missouri in 2013 about a possible affiliation. After years of discernment, the congregation seemed poised to move forward with the union.

While talks of a union with St. Stanislaus are off, the Diocese of Missouri still has important connections with the Catholic parish. The parish still plans to host the consecration ceremony of the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri on April 25, 2020.

– Janis Greenbaum is the Diocese of Missouri’s director of communications.

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Canadian bishop will resign for new positions with Diocese of Dallas

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 1:02pm

The Rt. Rev. Fraser Lawton will serve as rector of the Church of St. Dunstan in Mineola, Texas, and will also be an assisting bishop for The Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Dallas. Photo: Diocese of Dallas/Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal] Almost exactly a decade after being elected bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Diocese of Athabasca, Fraser Lawton will resign to take up positions with The Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Dallas.

Lawton’s resignation, already submitted to the diocese’s executive council, will take effect Sept. 8, according to an article in the September issue of the Messenger, the newspaper of the dioceses of Athabasca and Edmonton. Jason Haggstrom, now dean of Athabasca, will serve as administrator of the diocese beginning on that date, and an electoral synod to choose a new bishop is scheduled for Nov. 16 in Peace River, Alberta.

In a column in the same issue, Lawton says he will serve as rector of the Church of St. Dunstan in Mineola, Texas, and will also be an assisting bishop for the diocese. The plan, Lawton adds, is that in about two years he will be the diocese’s assistant bishop.

According to the diocese’s website, an assisting bishop, as opposed to an assistant bishop, is normally tasked with providing short-term help.

Read the full article here.

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Pittsburgh Episcopal church will host Jewish High Holiday services for synagogue targeted in 2018 mass shooting

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 6:04pm

Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. Photo: Joe Appel/Diocese of Pittsburgh

[Episcopal News Service] The Pittsburgh synagogue that was devastated by a mass shooting last October will hold its Jewish High Holiday services this fall at an Episcopal church down the street.

The Rev. Jonathon Jensen, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, offered his church as a worship space shortly after neo-Nazi terrorist Robert Bowers opened fire during a Sabbath service at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation on Oct. 27, killing 11 people, according to authorities.

That day, Calvary was packed with parishioners for a fundraiser, Jensen told the Episcopal News Service. Along with a financial gift and card from Calvary parishioners, Jensen sent a letter to Tree of Life.

“Everybody says something like, ‘let us know if there’s anything we can do to help,’ and I was specific in guessing that they would need space – worship, office, meeting – and so I offered specifically. ‘We’re good at doing that. If you need any of this, it’s yours,’” Jensen said.

A man prays outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 29, 2018. Photo: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

Tree of Life accepted. The synagogue is still damaged from the attack, and the congregation has been holding Sabbath services in a smaller space at another synagogue ever since, Jensen said. Last week, he met with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers to work out the details.

“There’s no charge for this,” Jensen told Myers. “This is the right thing to do.”

The High Holidays are a time of rejoicing, reflection and renewal for Jews. Rosh Hashanah is the joyful, two-day celebration of the Jewish New Year, while Yom Kippur, 10 days later, is the Day of Atonement, a time of repentance and fasting. Tree of Life will hold five days of services for the High Holidays in late September and early October at Calvary. Normally there would be about 800 people at the primary services, but there will probably be more this year, and Jensen said many of his parishioners are planning to attend. Calvary seats about 1,000 people, he said.

To make the church more welcoming and suitable for Jewish services, several crosses will be covered.

“It’s exactly what we do in Lent,” Jensen said. “We are not denying who we are as Christian people at all. … We want to be as hospitable as possible. It’s like when somebody comes over for dinner, you find out what they like and don’t like to eat and try to welcome them.”

Jensen said Myers will come to Calvary on a Sunday in September to introduce himself to the congregation and explain the significance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Knowing that Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha may not have a suitable space to worship for the High Holidays of 2020, Jensen offered to host those services at Calvary as well during his meeting with Myers last week.

“And he said, ‘I’m so glad you asked. Yes. In fact, here are the dates,’” Jensen said.

– 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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A multilingual priest connects her congregation and its community through language and listening

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 4:17pm

The Rev. Audra Abt presides over the Spanish “Misa,” or Mass, at a home service in Greensboro, North Carolina. Photos by Alex Maness

[Faith & Leadership] In an apartment in Greensboro, North Carolina, fresh fuchsia crepe myrtle flowers brightened the front left corner of a table serving as a makeshift altar. The Rev. Audra Abt, dressed in a clerical collar and a rainbow stole, lifted her hands as she presided over the Spanish-language “Misa,” or Mass.

Most of the nine people crammed into the living room were immigrants from Central America, including host José David Garay, who came from Honduras in 2013. Some sat on sofas next to the photos of his three children, while he and his son sat on the temporarily repurposed dining chairs.

Earlier, Abt had led a discussion about the meaning of the baptismal vows, translating as she went for those who didn’t speak Spanish.

“Buscarás y servirás a Cristo en todas las personas, amando a tu prójimo como a ti mismo?” Abt asked the group. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

The next morning, Abt stood in the pulpit of Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, preaching a Sunday sermon on the good Samaritan to the 20-member congregation, where she serves as part-time vicar.

“Your neighbor is anyone who has need or suffering that lays a claim on your love and care,” she preached. “But your neighbor is also the person that shows up when you’re suffering, even if they cussed you out last week.”

Two days later, Abt greeted visitors to the church’s weekly health access ministry in the rearranged sanctuary, where community members come to meet with a nurse and share a meal. The chairs now surrounded plastic tables instead of the pulpit, and adults chatted while kids chased each other around the room.

The 40-year-old priest’s ministry has multiple strands — presiding at the Misa for a Latinx house church, mostly because she enjoys it; serving a small, multiracial congregation as a part-time vicar; and organizing a community health access ministry in the church building for the congregation’s neighbors.

The common thread is engagement with the community, an approach that has benefited both the church and those who live near it.

Spanish-speaking immigrants have found community in a new country, and members of the city’s Episcopal churches have helped out during housing crises and immigration scares.

The small congregation at Holy Spirit has gotten a needed boost of life and energy with the arrival of the new priest, her partner and the new connections to its community.

Abt leads parishioners in a hymn at the Spanish Misa.

For Abt, the practice of listening is vital to making these connections.

“Listening is saving me,” she said. “It can break open the church. When the church doesn’t have to be the one to provide salvation or provide answers or fix people, when we need our neighbors and community as much as we think that they might need us, God can do some amazing things.”

Piecing together a career

Abt moved from Ohio to Greensboro in 2010, when her partner, Jen Feather, took a teaching position at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Raised in the Roman Catholic Church, Abt admired the priests, who did the sacramental work of the Mass but were also deeply involved in the congregation’s life. She began asking about the priesthood in the third grade, but quickly learned that women can’t be Catholic priests.

“If I were a boy, they would have helped me discern a call to the priesthood, but for a girl, it was like, ‘Don’t ask those questions,’” she said.

Then at 25, she was invited to an Episcopal church for the first time and began to consider the priesthood again, eventually earning an M.Div. at Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.

She finished her degree after arriving in Greensboro, then began piecing together a career as a priest.

A parishioner receives a blessing during the Misa.

“I’ve never had just one job since I’ve been ordained, nor have I had a full-time position,” she said.

During her time in the city, she has worked at multiple churches and as an area missioner. Currently, she serves half time at Holy Spirit and half time as a mission developer for the diocese, working with three churches in North Greensboro to help them think about their future.

One of the skills she brings to the job is proficiency in languages. Abt learned Portuguese living in Brazil and has spent the past 15 years learning Spanish “backward,” through Portuguese and “lots and lots of patient friends,” she said.

Among those patient friends is José David Garay.

A friendship flourishes

Garay, the host of the Spanish-speaking Misa, arrived in the U.S. with his family in May 2013, eventually settling in Greensboro. He hadn’t wanted to leave El Progreso, the city in northwestern Honduras where he lived; he was a social sciences teacher and enjoyed the life he led. But he left the country when he saw the increase of corruption and drug trafficking.

Garay and his family attended an Episcopal church in Honduras, so when they arrived in Greensboro, he set out to find another one.

He found St. Andrew’s — the most accessible Episcopal church by bus from his new apartment — where Abt was working at the time.

José David Garay (red shirt) and his family immigrated from Honduras in 2013. They are an integral part of the Spanish Misa.

Arriving in the middle of the week, he knocked on the door and met a confused secretary who could not speak Spanish. The secretary invited him in to talk to Abt, and the two quickly became friends — a young priest with a passion for migrant communities and an immigrant looking for a faith community.

Garay and Abt registered his children for school and shopped for the family’s first winter coats. He taught her Spanish songs, and they eventually started a Spanish service at the church.

But after a few months, the services started meeting in homes instead of the church. Garay told Abt that families would gather in people’s homes week by week and then meet at the church occasionally. The house gatherings provided more opportunity for direct conversation and deeper relationships, he said.

“Audra’s enthusiasm helped,” he said. “I appreciate being able to support Audra’s mission. There’s personal fulfillment there.”

Even though he now attends a Spanish-speaking Baptist service, Garay continues to host the Spanish Misa at his apartment. On a recent Saturday, Fatima Flores, an immigrant from El Salvador, rocked 11-month-old Jair — who sported red baby Air Jordans and a red snapback hat — as Abt opened up a discussion of the meaning of the baptismal vows in anticipation of the baby’s Sept. 1 baptism.

Abt asked what it meant to love your neighbor, your “prójimo,” as the vow said.

Flores struggled aloud with the term. In her home country of El Salvador, she said, “prójimo” didn’t always have a positive connotation. It could refer to the victim of a murder, for example — as when a man was stabbed in front of her in a bakery.

Abt nodded, providing space for the parishioners to process the vows through their own experiences.

The Misa is a place where recent immigrants have found a faith community, something especially important in the current anti-immigrant climate.

Fatima Flores laughs with Abt as she holds Flores’ son Jair, who will be baptized Sept. 1, 2019.

As of 2017, an estimated 325,000 undocumented immigrants live in North Carolina, some 40% of the state’s immigrant population and 3% of its population total. Another Episcopal church in Greensboro has made national headlines for housing Juana Tobar Ortega in sanctuary for the past two years to avoid deportation.

The Rev. David Fraccaro, executive director of Greensboro’s FaithAction International House, said he appreciated Abt’s call to welcome the stranger. She is a former board member of the immigrant advocacy organization and has referred people and served as chaplain there.

“She recognizes that the Holy Spirit is moving in new and deep relationships between existing citizens and newcomers — that there is spiritual gold to be found there,” Fraccaro said.

In Abt’s community, undocumented people face economic insecurity, having to change jobs frequently because employers treat them poorly or won’t keep them long, in view of their lack of papers. Other challenges arise when someone is deported. Abt remembers a mother who was arrested and deported, leaving two children without a parent. Immigration officials neglected to relocate them, but Abt and the community mobilized quickly to find them a new home.

For Garay, support from Abt and Greensboro’s Episcopalians has been critical.

Of meeting Abt in 2013, he said: “God put her there.”

‘Playful and neighborly’

At the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, about 20 people gather any given Sunday in a church that once was a house. The wood-floor kitchen holds snacks and tea as the parishioners trickle into the sanctuary, a converted garage that has been expanded and carpeted. Founded 36 years ago, the church has stayed small.

“I’m assuming that when a priest starts a church, there’s probably a number that they’re reaching for. But for whatever reason, we’ve never gotten to that number,” said longtime parishioner Gail Stroud.

Parishioners at Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit gather for a Sunday service.

Unlike some vicars before her, Abt has not focused on size, but instead on engaging the community around the church.

“I see my role as a clergyperson … as not just cultivating the internal community of this congregation but to be really present in the neighborhood and in businesses and to encourage the members of the congregation to just be present and know people,” Abt said. “To experiment with different ways of being playful and neighborly to see where those relationships might lead us.”

One of those experiments is the health center, which meets every Tuesday evening at the church.

Abt first started working with Holy Spirit as the area missioner before she became vicar in 2017. The congregation was wrestling with whether to keep doing the same programs or to try something new, even risky. To help them discern what to do, Abt went out with the parishioners and knocked on doors, asking people to share prayers, dreams and concerns.

They heard a lot of health concerns: people needed surgeries they couldn’t afford; people had relatives who were depressed and isolated and they didn’t know how to talk to them about it; others had pain that had not been diagnosed; still others were struggling with alcohol. Many of the people they met did not have insurance, and some did not have immigration documents, another barrier to receiving quality medical care.

Partnering with Cone Health’s congregational nurse program, the church began offering an on-site community nurse to help diagnose illnesses, connect people to financial assistance and have conversations about mental health, work and stress. The health access ministry opened in spring 2019.

Then they began wondering what people might do while waiting for health care — so they decided to start a free dinner.

Some church members were initially unsure whether they could really pull off a free health center and free meal as a 20-member church, Abt said.

“They asked, ‘Can we really do this on our own?’ And the answer is no, we can’t do it on our own. … I was confident God was already sending us the friends we needed.”

In addition to a Tuesday health access ministry, Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit offers a food and diaper pantry. Abt and a parishioner check out the items in the closet.

Other churches in the area bring food, caterers give leftovers, and a community program called Share the Harvest provides fresh vegetables.

Abt cobbled together free resources and hoped people would come and enjoy them. They did.

Forty-five people have been showing up weekly for the health center and dinner — double the Sunday service, and the maximum capacity of the sanctuary.

When asked about the explosion of numbers over the course of a few months, Abt said: “That is both the Holy Spirit at work and the result of several years of relationship building.”

“On Tuesday, this place is full — full with people you didn’t even know were our neighbors,” said Margaret Akingbade, a parishioner who helped plant the church 36 years ago. She is an immigrant herself, from Nigeria.

Margaret Akingbade walks through the community garden at Holy Spirit, where she has been a member for more than three decades. 

The health center draws many African immigrants and African Americans from the surrounding neighborhoods. Abt and church members are conscious about offering a space for community, not just a space to provide services, and the result is that those who come experience a sense of dignity that they rarely do in other spaces, where they’re treated as cases or clients.

For example, the church decided to use ceramic plates and metal silverware and have those who come serve themselves. They saw impact that they did not expect.

After a few weeks, as people started to feel comfortable, they began inviting their friends. Neighbors began bringing their own food to share and started a diaper pantry.

Many people arrive on buses, taking sometimes an hour to get to the church, but everyone makes sure that each person has a ride home.

“I feel like I’m being invited into a community, and I feel like I’m meeting Christ,” Abt said.

And seeing this vibrant community form as an offshoot of Holy Spirit has reinvigorated the Sunday congregation as well.

“It’s the most neighbors that I’ve seen in this church in almost 36 years,” Akingbade said.

The church has long lingered with a small membership. The pressure to grow has often caused anxiety, but this gathering of neighbors on Tuesdays has caused a glimmer of hope, not of increased membership or a more secure financial future, but that “church can be fun and enjoyable, and not scary and always praying that God won’t close us down,” Abt said.

Membership numbers have not grown, but the congregation’s sense of purpose has been renewed. They are learning to be better neighbors.

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On Pilgrimage for Racial Justice across Virginia, Episcopalians confront horrors of slavery, seek healing

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 2:20pm

Marchers file out of the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, during the first night of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on Aug. 16, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Alexandria, Virginia] In the heavy, humid evening air, dozens of people streamed through the gates of the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery in Alexandria’s Old Town district on Aug. 16 for the first event of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice. Organized by the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Britain’s North American colonies, the two-day pilgrimage featured a series of memorials, marches and services across the state, from Alexandria (just across the Potomac from Washington) to Abingdon (deep in the heart of Appalachia, near the border with Tennessee).

This journey of remembrance and healing began where the journeys of many victims of the slave trade ended. As its name suggests, the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery is not a typical graveyard. In fact, until 2007 it was the site of a gas station and office building. But it contains the remains of about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Union-occupied Alexandria during the Civil War to escape slavery. Considered “contraband of war” by the Union, they found freedom in Alexandria, but endured squalid living conditions in makeshift refugee camps. Already weak and sick from lives of hard labor, thousands died.

These graves at the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery were once covered over by a gas station. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

Today, the cemetery is an open field, with some of the graves marked with stones saying simply “GRAVE OF AN ADULT” or “GRAVE OF A CHILD.” A memorial with a statue and a wall containing some of the names of those buried there stand in the center. The recently re-dedicated cemetery embodies the theme of the pilgrimage itself: unearthing a painful history that has lain beneath the surface, and restoring the sacred dignity of those who were dehumanized by a belief system that survives in different forms to this day.

The Rev. Melissa Hays-Smith speaks at the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

The pilgrimage was organized by the Rev. Melissa Hays-Smith, canon for justice and reconciliation ministries of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, who wanted to commemorate the arrival of the first slaves in Virginia in late August 1619. But the landing site near Jamestown is far outside her diocese.

“Being in the mountains of Virginia, we don’t have Jamestown, we don’t have a lot of places from the early history” of slavery, Hays-Smith said. “But then we soon realized that the land where we are played a very significant role in this forced migration of African Americans.”

The Diocese of Southwestern Virginia contains a long stretch of the Slavery Trail of Tears, described as “the great missing migration” by Smithsonian magazine. In the half-century before the Civil War, about 1 million slaves were forcibly moved from Maryland and Virginia, where the tobacco industry was waning, to the Deep South, where they were sold to work on cotton and sugar plantations. The Slavery Trail of Tears was 20 times larger than its namesake, the Native American removal campaign of the 1830s, and the slaves were often forced to walk over 1,000 miles in chains.

Hays-Smith and the clergy of her diocese reached out to African American communities and churches along the route to put together the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice, and the response was enthusiastic. Though the stops on the pilgrimage were geographically linked by the Slavery Trail of Tears, the events they commemorated spanned centuries of racial injustice, from slave trading to lynchings to “urban renewal” projects that destroyed black neighborhoods, highlighting the fact that systemic racism in America did not end with emancipation or the civil rights movement.

That’s why the icon of a labyrinth was used as a logo for the pilgrimage, Hays-Smith explained at the first stop in Alexandria.

“As we’ve been talking about this, we recognized that this pathway to reconciliation is very much like a labyrinth. And unfortunately, history has repeated itself, and that’s why we can focus on so many different events,” she told the crowd at the cemetery, during a program that included song, prayer and reflection.

One of the other speakers that evening, the Rev. Kim Coleman – newly elected president of the Union of Black Episcopalians – touched on that theme as the crowd prepared to march through the streets of Alexandria.

“We march, remembering the reality that the vestiges of slavery we thought had long passed away are ever-present … Some ask the question, do black lives matter? We march because black lives do matter, tomorrow, today and yesterday,” she said to shouts of “Amen!”

Marchers walk through Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia, during the first night of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on Aug. 16, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

After singing “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me,” the crowd silently marched through Old Town, their faces illuminated by the LED candles they held and the red and blue lights of police escorts. People in the restaurants and bars that line Washington Street gazed out at the procession as it made its way to the building where Isaac Franklin and John Armfield – “the undisputed tycoons of the domestic slave trade,” according to Smithsonian – had their offices and slave pens. Franklin and Armfield sold about 20,000 slaves through those slave pens, according to Alton Wallace, who spoke that evening.

Marchers sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the Franklin & Armfield Slave Office in Alexandria, Virginia, during the first night of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on Aug. 16, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

At the Franklin & Armfield House, the crowd shared a moment of prayer and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sometimes called “the black national anthem.” It was too dark for those without candles to read the sheet music they’d been given, but it didn’t matter. They knew this one.

‘We remember and we repent’

It was even hotter the next morning, Aug. 17, in the picturesque town of Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley, but that didn’t stop a large crowd from showing up, excited to march through the downtown streets. They gathered in front of the old Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, the first church established by African Americans west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Rev. Shelby Ochs Owen speaks to the crowd near the old Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church in Staunton, Virginia, during the second day of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on Aug. 17, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

“I’ve often wondered about those black folks who remained here in Dixie when the war was done,” said the Rev. Edward Scott, the pastor. “But they stayed just the same, and in an act of faith, which is the substance of things hoped for in the evidence of things certainly not seen, they established a church. … They built this fortress to secure their prosperity, and to honor the God who troubled the waters to dissolve bondage.”

Leaders from Allen and the local Episcopal church led the crowd in a responsive litany that traced the long history of systemic racism in America, from slavery to the Ku Klux Klan to Jim Crow to present-day voter suppression and unequal policing of neighborhoods. After each prompt, the people responded in a loud, clear voice, “We remember and we repent.”

Marchers walk into downtown Staunton, Virginia, during the second day of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on Aug. 17, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

Then the crowd marched into downtown Stanton, a district full of well-preserved 19th century architecture. But not all of the city was considered worth preserving. The march became a tour of what was once a black neighborhood north of downtown, razed in the mid-20th century to make room for a mall that was never even built. Historians and senior citizens pointed out the sites of black businesses and homes where there is now a row of banks, parking lots and a Domino’s Pizza.

A hundred or so people participated, representing a diverse mix of ages, races and religious backgrounds. Stephanie Johnson, an elderly member of Allen Chapel and a descendant of its first pastor, wheeled her oxygen tank behind her as she walked.

“We are all people – doesn’t matter what color you are, what church you go to,” she said. “Today has been great. I’m satisfied.”

Katherine Low, who brought her 5-year-old daughter on the march, is a chaplain and professor at Mary Baldwin University, a racially diverse liberal arts college in Staunton. She said she came to support the community, but also to learn.

“It’s important for me to understand the systems that my students face that I have the privilege of not having to face,” said Low, who is white.

While spirits were high in Staunton, the next event, in Roanoke, was somber and sobering: a service of remembrance for the victims of two lynchings in 1892 and 1893. It took place in the garden of a Lutheran church near the sites of the lynchings of William Lavender and Thomas Smith.

Lavender and Smith were both accused of assaulting white women, but they were hanged and riddled with bullets before they could ever stand trial.

The Revs. Melissa Hays-Smith, Lyle Morton and David Jones bow their heads in prayer at a memorial service for lynching victims in Roanoke, Virginia, during the second day of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on Aug. 17, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

“We come in remembrance of those whose lives were sacrificed on the altar of racism, hatred, bigotry, but ultimately because of fear,” the Rev. David Jones, a Baptist pastor, said in the invocation. “We come because we serve and celebrate a God who still transforms victims into victors.”

Jones urged those in attendance to look on the lynchings not merely as historical events, but as dire warnings.

“Today, let us be illuminated, motivated and even infuriated if necessary, so that no one can say that they were ignorant of the evil that still percolates just beneath the surface of our well-practiced civility,” he said.

After historical accounts of the lynchings were read, the Rev. Lyle Morton, a Methodist pastor, vividly recalled being warned about the price he could pay simply for looking or moving a certain way.

“I, being a black man growing up in Prince Edward County, was taught to walk so that I wouldn’t become a fruit,” he told the crowd, a reference to the “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” in the song “Strange Fruit” made famous by Billie Holiday.

To Radford and Abingdon

The fourth event on the pilgrimage was held in a park in Radford on the wide New River, which slaves in Franklin & Armfield’s chains had to ford at great peril while their masters went across in boats. Today, a high bridge carries the Lee Highway over the river, and clumps of teenagers floated by on inner tubes as the service began with the Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water.”

The featured speaker in Radford was Wornie Reed, director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center and professor of sociology and Africana Studies at Virginia Tech. A distinguished scholar who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in his youth, Reed is renowned for his lectures, which showcase his encyclopedic knowledge of African American history.

But his remarks in Radford were different. As he began to speak, his voice trembled.

“I’m still a little emotional,” he said, from hearing “Wade in the Water.”

Wornie Reed speaks at Bisset Park in Radford, Virginia, during the second day of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on Aug. 17, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

“The song is very meaningful to me,” he went on. “A lot of memories came back as we sit here and look out at the river and the green trees and all of that. I’m reminded of the day that I was taken down to the creek to be baptized in McIntosh, Alabama. And that’s the song they sang.”

Among the founders of the church that baptized him was his great-grandfather, a former slave.

In his prepared remarks, Reed recounted the horrific conditions on the Slavery Trail of Tears and its lingering consequences: economic injustice and voter suppression.

“There are some communities where you can still see the scars,” he said. “So this is, as we said earlier, not a happy time. But it’s a time to recognize and to realize some things that happened that brought us to today.”

The pilgrimage concluded with a “Communion Service of Lament, Reconciliation and Commitment” at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Abingdon, another town whose main street still looks much as it did when the Slavery Trail of Tears ran through it.

The Community Choir performs at the Communion Service of Lament, Reconciliation and Commitment at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Abingdon, Virginia, during the second day of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on Aug. 17, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

The service was celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Mark Bourlakas, bishop of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, with the assistance of several black clergy members from nearby churches. Congregants from the various churches led a Litany of Repentance and Commitment similar to the one used in Staunton. Two members of the federal 400 Years of African-American History Commission spoke. But perhaps the most moving aspect of the service happened during Communion, when the invited pastors offered healing prayers for all, embracing those who approached them and anointing them with oil.

The Rev. Sandra Jones offers healing prayers during the Communion Service of Lament, Reconciliation and Commitment at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Abingdon, Virginia, during the second day of the Pilgrimage for Racial Justice on Aug. 17, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

By the time everyone had returned to their seats, several people remarked that the atmosphere in the church seemed different – that something had changed.

“I believe that this is the beginning,” said the Rev. Joseph Green Jr., who gave the sermon. “This is a moment in time that we can use to propel us into the next generations.”

– 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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