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Episcopal leaders in Hawaii pledge support for mountain ‘protectors’ against telescope project

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 2:53pm

[Episcopal News Service] The bishop of the Diocese of Hawaii and Native Hawaiian clergy have spoken out in support of a demonstration that is blocking a proposed telescope project on the top of the state’s highest mountain, a site considered sacred in Hawaiian culture.

The diocese on July 22 released a statement on the issue from two Native Hawaiian clergy members, accompanied by a letter from Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick aligning the diocese with those who have positioned themselves as “protectors” of the mountain, Mauna Kea, and seek to halt progress on the telescope.

“We, the Episcopal Church in Hawai’i, stand in service to Mauna Kea as a sacred place, and in solidarity with those who are protecting her,” the Revs. Jasmine Hanakaulani o Kamamalu Bostock and Paul Nahoa Lucas said in their written statement.

The protests on Hawaii’s Big Island “have brought attention to the alienation of the indigenous people of these islands, the kanaka maoli, from their own land,” Fitzpatrick said. “As Episcopalians, we must not be afraid to speak honestly together about past wrongs and the current injustices. We must talk and, more importantly, deeply listen and act.”

Drawing comparisons to the Native American demonstrators who in 2016 tried to stop an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, Native Hawaiians and activists have been camped since last week at the foot of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, blocking an access road in opposition to the Thirty Meter Telescope.

The $1.4 billion project has cleared various regulatory hurdles and was backed by a ruling of the state Supreme Court. While legal battles continue, protests have remained peaceful, though 34 participants were arrested, cited and released last week, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

The Maunakea Observatories are seen from above the peak on Hawaii’s Big Island. Photo: NOAA

About a dozen telescopes already are positioned at the top of Mauna Kea’s 14,000-foot peak, a treasured location for those studying the cosmos because of the site’s natural advantages, including clear air and reduced light pollution. Some Hawaiians favor the project as a boost for the local workforce and economy, though the Native Hawaiian demonstrators and other opponents argue that scientific development of the site has gone far enough.

“This is not an issue of being anti-science, as Hawaiian people have a long and proud history of technological advancement,” said Bostock, curate at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Honolulu, and Lucas, vicar at St. John’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Kaneohe. “This conflict centers on efforts to respect Mauna Kea as a sacred space – as wao akua, realm of the gods.”

Their statement compares Mauna Kea to sacred sites in the Judeo-Christian tradition, such as Mount Horeb, Mount Carmel and Mount Zion.

“Sacredness is not merely a concept or a label,” they said in the statement. “It is a lived experience of oneness and connectedness with the natural and spiritual worlds. Nature is not inert, but a place where our Creator is known and honored. Mauna Kea is such a holy place for the Hawaiian people and many others.”

The modern Episcopal Church has been supportive of indigenous people’s quest for self-determination and preservation of indigenous culture and spirituality. That contrasts with the church’s historic complicity in oppressive colonial and federal systems. In the 1800s, Episcopal missionaries ministered to American Indian tribes, but conversion to Christianity typically required leaving Native spirituality behind.

Native Hawaiians’ struggles against American colonialism began more recently. The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by a group backed by American business interests, and Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959.

A 1997 General Convention resolution specifically called on the church to “take such steps as necessary to fully recognize and welcome Native Peoples into congregational life.” And in 2009, General Convention repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, rooted in a 1493 document that purported to give Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and convert the people they encountered.

Bostock and Lucas affirmed in their statement that the Doctrine of Discovery has long been discredited, and they offered prayers “that the dignity of all people will be upheld, and the sacredness of Mauna Kea will be honored and protected.”

Fitzpatrick said he concurred with the statement and offered a teaching on the issue.

“Our faith does not promise freedom from conflict or from disagreement. We are called to seek together peace with justice in the Beloved Community,” he said. “Such conversations will take time – even years. It will certainly call for patience and honesty. Our conversation must deepen now.”

In the short term, he recommended a “moratorium on all moves to begin construction” of the telescope.

“I acknowledge that the livelihoods of some will be impacted and the hopes of others overturned by such a move,” Fitzpatrick said. “I am saddened by that reality and it certainly must be part of our conversations, but we must continue together.”

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

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Union of Black Episcopalians meets in Los Angeles, celebrates diaspora, women bishops

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 2:16pm

Bishop Chet Talton, retired suffragan of Los Angeles, center, celebrates the opening Eucharist at the Union of Black Episcopalians 2019 conference on July 22 at St. John’s Cathedral, Los Angeles. Photo: Janet Kawamoto/Diocese of Los Angeles

The 51st annual business meeting of the Union of Black Episcopalians opened July 22 in Los Angeles with spirited worship celebrating the African diaspora’s rich musical and cultural heritage, and with standing ovations and sustained applause for three African American women recently elected diocesan bishops.

The Los Angeles Episcopal Chorale performed a choral prelude, “Especially Do I Believe in the Negro Race,” authored by W.E.B. Dubois, recalling African Americans’ early struggles for equal rights. Dubois, a founder of the NAACP in 1909, authored the credo with Margaret Bonds, one of the first black composers and performers to gain widespread recognition in the United States. The credo calls for pride of race, peace, liberty, equal education and patience.

The Africa in America dance ensemble performs a prelude at the July 22 opening Eucharist. Photo: Janet Kawamoto/Diocese of Los Angeles.

Rousing drumming and dynamic dancing brought several hundred worshippers to their feet as the Africa in America Ensemble of dancers and drummers led a procession of bishops, clergy and lay leaders into the Romanesque-style St. John’s Cathedral near downtown Los Angeles. The two-hour worship service in Swahili, English and Spanish also included original musical offerings, a Swahili psalm of praise and a Nigerian musical rendition of the Nicene Creed.

West Tennessee Bishop Phoebe Roaf, guest preacher at the 7 p.m. Eucharist, noted the 400th anniversary of the 1619 arrival of the first African slaves in the British colony of Virginia, along with the continuing struggles today in the church and society.

“The unique experiences of black folk have uniquely prepared us for such a time as this. The work is hard; it’s challenging, and it’s life-giving,” Roaf said, echoing the conference theme, “Preparing the Way for Such a Time as This: Many People, One Lord!!”

The challenges also present opportunities for ministry and building bridges and partnerships.

“As we continue to fight and struggle for the rights of black folks, remember this is bigger than us,” she said. “There are a lot of other folks struggling too. So, where are we, when it comes to assisting our immigrant brothers and sisters?

Bishop Phoebe Roaf, newly ordained and consecrated in the Diocese of West Tennessee, preaches at the opening Eucharist, on July 22. Photo: Janet Kawamoto/Diocese of Los Angeles

“Where are we when it comes to maintaining the health of this planet Earth, our fragile home? Where are we when it comes to the issues facing our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters? Even if racial discrimination were eliminated from this church and this nation tomorrow … our work would not be done because, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, none of us is free as long as one of us is not free.”

Evoking laughter and applause, she added: “Black folk have been advocating for full equality in our beloved church and this (country), our home—notwithstanding what other people may think of where we’re going back to.” Roaf was referring to recent tweets in which President Donald Trump told four congresswomen of color who have been critical of him to “go back” to where they came from. “I don’t know about you, but I am home,” she said.

Roaf, ordained bishop on May 4, is one of three African American women consecrated diocesan bishops within the past year. Newark Bishop Carlye J. Hughes was consecrated Sept. 22, and Colorado Bishop Kym Lucas was consecrated May 18, bringing to five the number of African American women bishops in the Episcopal Church.

Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows became the first African American female diocesan bishop when she was consecrated in 2017. Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris, consecrated in 2003, succeeded Bishop Barbara Harris, whose 1989 consecration made her the first woman and first African American woman bishop in The Episcopal Church.

Remembering lessons of the past; healing hearts today

During a welcome to conference attendees, Los Angeles Bishop John Taylor recalled that UBE was born at St. Philip’s Church in Harlem in February 1968, a year “when plenty of fresh political hay was made by leveraging voters against one another on the basis of race.”

Remembering the lessons learned that tumultuous year, in which both King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated amid great civil unrest, “enables us to better understand times like this,” he said.

The Union of Black Episcopalians gathers for the July 22 opening Eucharist of its 2019 annual conference at St. John’s Cathedral, Los Angeles. Photo: Janet Kawamoto/Diocese of Los Angeles

“We are many peoples, many cultures, many languages, from many nations gathered under the wing of one Lord, collecting our promise of freedom and justice in one nation under God, So, if someone says to any of us, go back where you came from, we follow that instruction to the letter. We come here,” he said, referring to the historic cathedral’s altar.

“This is where we come … to fortify ourselves and go out and play our indispensable role in healing the heart of America and the world.”

UBE President Annette Buchanan said the conference theme was chosen to reflect the rich cultural diversity of the African diaspora and to pay homage to the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans on this continent.

The goal of the conference is “to prepare ourselves to face all of the issues in our nation,” she added. “At times, it feels like we are reliving some experiences of the past. We must fortify and sustain ourselves to be recommitted to the fight ahead for many in our community.

“These are very dangerous times,” she said. “These are very disappointing times. We see some of the gains we’ve made are eroding.”

‘Preparation, renewal, sustenance’

West Tennessee’s Roaf echoed themes of preparation, renewal and sustenance.

“Let’s take advantage of the rest of this week, of the time we have together to really come away with some action plans for things to take home,” she told the gathering, which includes Episcopalians from across the United States, the Caribbean and Central America.

Citing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s “Way of Love” spiritual practices and the racial healing aspects of “Becoming Beloved Community” as resources, she added: “There truly is work to be done.

“The past few years have uncovered a level of hatred far greater than I ever imagined from my fellow American citizens. These are scary times we’re living in. We need to acknowledge it and not be paralyzed by it.”

Transformation is key, she added.

“The bottom line, brothers and sisters, is that our church and our world will be transformed once we are transformed. Our transformation … is the first step in our work of racial reconciliation and social justice.”

The conference continues through July 26.

Workshops and plenaries range from multicultural liturgy to spirituality and sexuality, opportunities for ministry, Black Lives Matter and issues of mental health.

The Most Rev. Julio Murray of Panama, primate of Central America, is expected to celebrate a 7 p.m. Eucharist on Tuesday, July 23, also to be held at St. John’s Cathedral.

Curry is expected to preach at a youth and young adult service at 7 p.m. July 24 at All Saints Church in Pasadena. The service will be live-streamed at allsaints-pas.org/live-stream.

— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.

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Scribes tried to blot her out. Now a scholar is trying to recover the real Mary Magdalene.

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 11:23am

Elizabeth Schrader is a Duke University doctoral student in religion. Photo: Megan Mendenhall/Duke University via Religion News Service

[Religion News Service] On July 22, the feast day of Mary Magdalene, Elizabeth Schrader will hike up a mountain in the south of France to the cave where, legend has it, the saint lived out her remaining days after the crucifixion of Jesus.

It will be Schrader’s fourth trek to the cave in the town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, an hour’s drive from Marseille, but her first on the actual feast day decreed by Pope Francis in 2016. Even before the decree, the day had long drawn pilgrims who process through the streets of Saint-Maximin with the purported skull of Mary Magdalene in a golden reliquary.

Schrader, a doctoral student at Duke University, has her own way of honoring the woman who witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection. Schrader’s academic work, like that of others, attempts to liberate Magdalene from the patriarchal overlays of ancient Christian scribes who recorded the New Testament’s four Gospels.

For Schrader, the impulse to recover the scope and stature of Mary Magdalene came nine years ago, when she was Libbie Schrader, a singer-songwriter in the New York pop scene. A cradle Episcopalian, she had wandered into a church garden in Brooklyn to pray to the Virgin Mary and heard a voice telling her to seek out Mary Magdalene.

Three days later, Schrader wrote a song, “Magdalene,” that later become the title of her 2011 album. That, in turn, sent her to the Brooklyn Public Library in search of scholarly articles about the Jesus follower, who is sometimes portrayed as a prostitute, though the Gospels never say so.

“It’s not my choice to be working on this,” said Schrader, 39, who left her music career to pursue scholarship. “It happened to me.”

Schrader’s central discovery, which she wrote about in a paper published by the Harvard Theological Review two years ago, is that Mary Magdalene’s role was deliberately downplayed by biblical scribes to minimize her importance.

Specifically, Schrader looks at the story of the raising of Lazarus told in the Gospel of John. In today’s Bibles, Lazarus has two sisters, Mary and Martha. But poring over hundreds of hand-copied early Greek and Latin manuscripts of the Gospel, Schrader found the name Martha had been altered. The scribes scratched out one Greek letter and replaced it with another, thereby changing the original name “Mary” to read “Martha.” They then split one woman into two.

Schrader argues that the Mary of the original text is Mary Magdalene, not Martha or Martha’s sister, Mary. The two sisters belong to another story, in the Gospel of Luke, that is not repeated in John’s Gospel.

The reason for the change, Schrader said, was that later scribes did not want to give Mary Magdalene too big a role in the events of Jesus’ life. Already Mary Magdalene is at the crucifixion and the empty tomb, and in the Gospel of Luke she is exorcized of seven demons and then travels with Jesus and supplies him the funds needed for his ministry.

In particular, the scribes may have wanted to avoid giving Mary Magdalene the confession of faith that follows the story of Lazarus. That confession — “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” — in today’s Bibles is uttered by Martha. Schrader argues it was meant to be said by Mary Magdalene.

“Martha is added as a way of diminishing Mary Magdalene and confusing her presentation,” said Schrader in a Skype interview from Germany. “It’s a later editor’s interference with the intention of (John) the evangelist.”

Schrader posited that Mary Magdalene caused tension with Jesus’ male disciples, especially his handpicked deputy, Peter, that is evident in several noncanonical gospels — accounts of Jesus’ works not included in the New Testament. Later scribes, Schrader said, may have been acutely aware of that.

Stephen C. Carlson, a scholar at Australian Catholic University who studies early Christianity, said Schrader does a very good job demonstrating what he called “textual instability” surrounding Martha that many scholars may not be aware of.

“The tendency would be to think that the variants she’s discovered and is calling attention to can be dismissed as some kind of scribal incompetence,” Carlson said. But he added that he would be interested in seeing a fuller treatment of her study in a doctoral dissertation.

Other scholars have suggested that Mary Magdalene could not have been Lazarus’ sister because the Gospel indicates that Lazarus and his sister lived in Bethany, near Jerusalem, whereas Mary Magdalene was from the Galilee region — possibly Migdal or Magdala — where most of Jesus’ ministry took place. Schrader, however, argues that Magdala comes from the Hebrew word for “tower,” an honorific title, and doesn’t refer to the town where Mary was from.

Last week, Schrader traveled to Münster, Germany, to meet with the editors of the Nestle-Aland New Testament, the edition of the Greek text used by most scholars, students and translators today. She discussed her findings about the changes made in the text of John’s Gospel and said the editors may consider adding a footnote to that effect in upcoming editions.

Schrader’s paper comes at a time when many scholars are trying to recover women’s roles in early Christianity — roles the early church fathers tried to suppress.

Just this month, another scholar posited that three of the earliest surviving images of Christians worshipping at church altars show women in official liturgical roles. Speaking at the International Society of Biblical Literature in Rome, Ally Kateusz said the images are significant because they show women and men in parallel roles, suggesting they may have served as deacons, priests, or maybe even bishops.

Mark Goodacre, a New Testament scholar at Duke, said he was encouraged by all the new scholarship around women in early Christianity.

“There have been many men who have imagined the Christian movement as a thoroughly male-dominated, exclusively male setup,” Goodacre said. “We’re in the process of trying to reimagine Christian origins and put women back into where they originally were, having been written out by male interpreters over the years.”

For Schrader, who grew up in The Episcopal Church, where women serve as priests, bishops, even presiding bishops, it makes sense that a younger generation of women would see things others have not.

“A woman has to know her worth,” she said, “to dig and find this.”

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‘Free Range Priests’ solve traditional church problems

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 3:50pm

[Faith & Leadership] A few weeks ago after Sunday worship, I was drinking coffee with parishioners at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salisbury, North Carolina.

We were talking about how happy they are with how things are going in the congregation.

They mentioned how easily they laugh and socialize together. They talked about their deepening theology, how they are being challenged to think about their relationship with God in new ways.

They mentioned how many of them are designated lay ministers of some kind — they read and assist during Eucharist; they officiate at morning prayer; they bring communion and visit with those who cannot make it to church.

We spoke at length about a beloved parishioner who had recently died after a grueling illness. Nearly everyone from the congregation had helped provide care for him and his wife, with visits, meals, prayers and gifts. At the funeral and after, they were present and prayerful with his grieving family, giving extraordinary care both to them and to each other.

By almost any measure, St. Paul’s is an exceptional and flourishing congregation.

Except one: size.

The total membership of St. Paul’s is about 30, though they have seen a solid 10 percent growth over the past two years. Three new members have become very active during that time. One is now in the choir, and another is on the vestry. St. Paul’s is a congregation of modest size and modest means, yet they are thriving spiritually.

I know this because I am their “Free Range Priest.”

My relationship with St. Paul’s is part of my overall ministry as a “clergypreneur,” a term coined by my friend the Rev. Jay McNeal. I work in a variety of ways and places, online and in person, with congregations and individuals, to make one vocation from a variety of jobs.

Basically, I am like an Uber driver for your spiritual experience.

At St. Paul’s, I serve two Sundays per month for a flat fee, plus they pay me hourly for pastoral care, Christian education and leadership formation, and other services as needed. I am not a “Sunday supply” priest — basically, a substitute clergyperson — because I have an ongoing relationship with this community. Yet I am also not their official pastor.

I am not in charge of the congregation, I do not attend their leadership meetings, and I do not represent them. The congregation runs the church, and their ministry keeps it going. They contract with me for my own ministry, where and when it works best for them, and for me.

My ministry at St. Paul’s, and my wider Free Range Priest ministry — which includes Sunday supply, mentoring, coaching and more — is born out of necessity. St. Paul’s, and many churches like it (close to 20 percent of Episcopal churches the last time I checked), can no longer afford even a very part-time clergy salary. Only about half of mainline Christian clergy are currently being paid for full-time work. Many clergy work full time — or more — but are not getting paid for that work.

Both congregations and clergy are facing the reality of dwindling numbers, which creates a lot of tension for both. Clearly, we need to find creative solutions for congregations to continue to thrive and for clergy to continue to serve. The new vocation of Free Range Priest gives the congregations and the clergy the creative space to flourish.

Sometimes, people are put off by the title “Free Range.”

“Like the chicken?” they ask.

Well, sort of.

“Free Range” might imply that I have no accountability or responsibility for what I do, but that could not be further from the truth. Like the chicken (and the lamb), I am still part of the flock. Nothing I do is outside the realm of how an ordained clergyperson serves — bearing the sacraments, traditions and Scripture of the faith into the world. I am still fully responsible and accountable — to both St. Paul’s and the Episcopal Church — for all that I do. The only thing that is different for me is where, how and with whom I do this.

As a Free Range Priest, I support congregations as they currently are, not as they wish they could be or once were. This is why my work with St. Paul’s is so important. I am free to serve them in a way that supports the other parts of my ministry. And they are free to have ordained ministry that they can afford, without having to worry about how to pay a clergy salary.

“You have freed us from having ‘NPAS,’” one parishioner told me. “That means ‘no-priest anxiety syndrome.’”

Many congregations have this syndrome, because they fear they can’t pay a salary and thus might lose their priest.

Priests (and other ordained ministers) have this fear, too. Lots of ordained clergy have no idea how they would support themselves and their families if they lost their full- or part-time clergy salaries. Many are looking for secular work, because ministry no longer pays the bills — or the seminary student debt.

Lots of clergy — more than 1 in 10, according to one study — work without any compensation, because they love the church and want to serve God and God’s people even if congregations can’t pay them. But this is not sustainable for clergy or congregations. If we keep moving toward clergy not being paid, we will soon have no ordained ministry at all.

As a Free Range Priest, I now know that there is another way.

Congregations can afford to pay for ministry on contract, by the hour. I know, because I do it.

Clergy can find ways to share our ministry — online and in person — with those who need to know about the love of God but may not be attending church. I know, because I do it.

For so long, the mainline Christian congregational model has been the only way we could imagine clergy serving our vocation. But today, we have many other ways to consider being the church, and serving the church.

This is my whole ministry. It is healthier to have the freedom to consider how to bring the love of God to the most people — and get paid for it — than to have to keep upholding institutional and organizational models of church administration that are no longer working.

My ministry is to model and support what it might look like to serve fully as an ordained clergyperson in unexpected ways and places. In addition to serving St. Paul’s, I serve as Sunday supply for other congregations. I teach and mentor preachers online with Backstory Preaching; I coach and mentor clergy; I work with clergy, congregations and dioceses on challenges facing today’s church, particularly around digital and social media ministry. I also offer “2 Minutes of Good News” every Monday morning on my Facebook page and connect in other ways with those who are not necessarily believers or churchgoers.

Such fresh, adaptive approaches to where, how and whom clergy serve are crucial for the mainline Christian church to thrive in the 21st-century world.

Free Range Priests aim to find ways to make ministry sustainable, and to help share good news in new places and ways. Creative ministry is the future of the living church.

This was first published in Faith & Leadership.

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Hymn society tournament reveals ‘greatest hymn of all time’

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 3:27pm

[Religion News Service] “Holy, Holy, Holy!” has been chosen in a March Madness-like tournament as “the greatest hymn of all time.”

The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada announced the winner on July 18, the last day of its annual conference in Dallas.

“Some matchups were real nail-biters, while in others one hymn blew its opposition out of the water!” reads a post on the society’s Facebook page. “Yesterday was the final round and we can safely say that the Greatest Hymn of All Time — as chosen by you — is: Holy, Holy Holy!!!”

The full bracket for The Hymn Society’s 2019 Hymn Tournament. Image: The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada

More than 800 people, mostly members of the 1,200-member Hymn Society, voted on the society’s website, on Facebook and, in the last rounds, in person at the conference during the competition that featured brackets similar to the springtime NCAA basketball tradition.

Hymn experts said it was fitting, if not surprising, that “Holy, Holy, Holy!” — which trounced “Amazing Grace,” 70% to 30% in the second round — defeated its musical challengers.

Christopher Phillips, author of the 2018 book “The Hymnal: A Reading History,” said “Holy, Holy, Holy!” is “something of a natural champion among hymns of various eras.

“The words and music have a stately, majestic quality, something many worshippers want to associate with the traditional hymn repertoire,” he said.

Phillips, a professor at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, added that the hymn’s tune by English clergyman John B. Dykes is one of the 19th century’s best. The words by Anglican bishop Reginald Heber, he said, “are an elegant way of affirming the basic belief in the Trinity that unites most Christian denominations regardless of other doctrinal differences.”

The hymn begins with the words “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!” and ends with “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!”

Eileen Guenther, church music professor at Washington’s Wesley Theological Seminary, said the society’s approach to the tournament, providing hymn titles from which to choose rather than asking people to list their favorites, means the winner is a barometer “with borders” on what enthusiasts consider the greatest one.

“I think what it really speaks to is our quest today for the past,” she said, adding that people may have voted for “Holy, Holy, Holy!” because they recalled singing it as children.

“So having a hymn of longtime history (and) deep roots probably makes sense for a questionnaire right now,” said Guenther. “And my guess is if that same questionnaire happened another time, … we would get an entirely different response.”

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Jóvenes Episcopales live out the Way of Love at Panama gathering

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 1:45pm

Ninety-six youths from Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States attended the first-ever Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales in Panama City, Panama. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Panama City] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry brought the Way of Love message to the first-ever Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales gathering of Latin American youth last week in what was a rousing celebration of Hispanic culture and youth empowerment.

“Let no one despise your youth,” said Curry, referencing 1 Timothy during the July 18 opening Eucharist. “Follow Jesus and just love.”

EJE19 brought 96 young people ages 16 to 26 from across Latin America and the Caribbean to Panama City for the gathering styled after the popular Episcopal Youth Event held every three years in the United States. Delegations and volunteers came from each of the seven Province IX dioceses and the Diocese of Cuba, as well as from Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Panama. EJE also included a six-member Spanish-speaking youth delegation from the United States, with participants from New York, Texas, Arizona and California.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches in English and Dinorah Padro interprets his words in Spanish during the opening Eucharist of the Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales, held July 18-19 in Panama City, Panama. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

During the Eucharist’s readings, a young participant read the passage from 1 Timothy, to which the presiding bishop referred: “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

It was a refrain repeated one way or another throughout the July 18-19 “Way of Love”-themed event held at the City of Knowledge, a former U.S. military base in Panama City that now serves as an NGO hub and conference facility, with theaters, auditoriums, classrooms and dormitory-style lodging.

“The truth is, love is the key to everything, everything that matters to life and death. Love is the key,” said Curry. Citing an old Latin hymn, he continued: “‘Wherever true love is found, God himself is there because God is love.’

“Jesus taught us that love is the key to everything. If you don’t know what to do, do what you think the loving thing is to do,” he said. “Oh, that’s a message for the world.

“When the president of the United States and Congress of the United States are making policy about the border of the United States and deciding who gets in and who doesn’t, y’all need to stop, Mr. President, and you need to love. Love folks from El Salvador, love folks from Honduras, love folks from Nicaragua, love, love, love, love, love.”

The presiding bishop preached these words as the United States continues its struggle to respond to the large number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum. Migration, particularly economic migration, has long been characteristic of the region. However, forced migration is a more recent phenomenon.

Archbishop Julio Murray, primate of the Anglican Province of Central America and bishop of the Diocese of Panama, welcomes youth delegates, volunteers and staff to the Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales held July 18-19 in Panama City, Panama. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Youths expressed their own political concerns during the Eucharist, as evidenced in the prayers of the people, when they called for justice and peace in their own countries. They called out Colombia’s violent history of war and called for peace. They called for an end to corruption, poverty, injustice and environmental degradation in Honduras and called instead for a homeland built on unity, love and the common good. They prayed for the young people across Central America who find themselves caught up in gangs, and for the safety of women and girls, that they not become victims of violence. They also asked for peace in Puerto Rico and for freedom in Venezuela.

From the opening Eucharist, it was clear the event was organized by youth for youth in their own cultural, linguistic, geographical and ministry contexts.

“We just wanted to bring everyone together because this is the way Jesus wants it,” said Kenniane, 22, a planning team member from Puerto Rico. “We are not ashamed of what we are; we want to express the love he gave us.

“Like the (presiding) bishop said, ‘God is love.’”

Youth across Latin America are dealing with the same problems: corrupt governments, politics, immigration and racism, she said.

On the conference’s second day, workshops were offered on how to live out the Way of Love, addressing the themes of racial reconciliation, evangelism, leadership and creation care.

The event was intended to “show the young people that they are powerful and they have to be leaders in their communities,” said Byron, 23, a planning team member from Honduras.

The Episcopal Church’s Faith Formation, Ethnic Ministries and Global Partnerships offices partnered with the Province IX EJE19 Planning Team to organize the event; a Constable Fund grant covered pre-conference planning, and in 2018, General Convention approved $350,000 for the event.

“It is intended to affirm, invite, inspire and equip young people for claiming their baptism and discerning their place in the church,” said Bronwyn Clark Skov, director of formation, youth and young adult ministries in The Episcopal Church, on the first day of the conference.

“Many people will compare this event with EYE. … The passion with which these young people affirm their baptism – they’re unashamed evangelists,” she said, adding that the youth are stepping into leadership roles, “and our greatest hope is that they continue to do that.”

It was important to provide a culturally and socially appropriate context for the Spanish-speaking youth to talk about what affects them, said Glenda McQueen, program officer for Latin America.

Latin American dioceses may be able to afford to send only one or two participants to conferences in the United States, and securing a travel visa is a challenge, even more so under the current administration, said McQueen.

When McQueen attended the Global Episcopal Mission Network, or GEMN, Conference in the Dominican Republic earlier this year, she witnessed young adults in that diocese making and selling breakfast to fund their attendance, and it was the same for other dioceses, she said.

“When I welcomed them the first night … this is a dream realized,” said McQueen, and others were simultaneously having the same thoughts. “My dream (now) is to see it continue.”

Panama, which is part of the Anglican Province of Central America, was chosen to host the event for its location, low regional travel costs and less restrictive visa requirements.

“The Diocese of Panama is very, very grateful for the opportunity given to us by the Ninth Province and by the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church for hosting this event,” said Archbishop Julio Murray, bishop of the Diocese of Panama and the province’s primate.

Holding the event in Panama created opportunity for more youth to attend.

“Accessing visas is not the easiest thing, especially for young people, so having it in Latin America, it brings more people together from the region,” Murray said. “This region is going through lots of changes and challenges, and the young people know about these changes and challenges. And they have an opportunity to talk about them and also to come up with strategies of how they go back to their countries, and they become supportive or agents of transformation beginning with change.”

The way the youth live out the call to follow Jesus impressed the presiding bishop.

“They’ve actually come together to pray, to study the Bible, to study the way and the teachings of Jesus, so that they can actually live those teachings in their lives and help their countries, and all of our countries, to actually reflect what Jesus said when he said, ‘Love God, love your neighbor and love yourself,’” Curry told the Episcopal News Service on the second day. “They’re actually doing it; they’re not just talking about it. That’s inspiration.”

“I remember being in Honduras two years ago, and it was the young people there, many of whom are here now, who wanted us to go out on the streets to do evangelism. These were Episcopal kids, and they dragged both (Honduras) Bishop Lloyd (Allen) and me, and they dragged two bishops out and we were out in the afternoon, sun hot as could be, with signs: ‘Honk if you love God,’ ‘Honk if you believe God loves you,’ and ‘Honk if you want a prayer.’ And we were doing that for a couple of hours,” said Curry. “That came from the young people; they actually are helping to lead the church back to being the church that looks like the way of Jesus and the way of his love.”

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

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Anglican Church of Canada votes to expand Lutheran-Anglican communion in North America

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 12:13pm

Archbishop Fred Hiltz embraces National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, while Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton applaud. Photo: Brian Bukowski/Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal] General Synod passed a resolution July 15 to recognize full communion among the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), the U.S.-based Episcopal Church (TEC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Dean Peter Wall, co-chair of the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission, introduced the resolution by reading excerpts from the Memorandum of Mutual Recognition of Relations of Full Communion, which was drafted at a meeting of the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission and the Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee in September 2018.

Read the full article here.

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The only Bible on the moon was left there by an Episcopalian on behalf of his parish

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 5:00pm

In 1971, St. Christopher Episcopal Church in League City, Texas, gave a Bible to a parishioner, David Scott, to take with him on a business trip. To this day, the congregation still has not gotten it back.

That’s because he left it on the moon.

As the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, the parish southeast of Houston is remembering its own small part in the history of space exploration. The Bible they presented to Scott appears to be the only one ever left on the Moon, and perhaps the only Bible outside Earth today.

The Bible left by David Scott is shown in the red circle. Photo: NASA via St. Christopher Episcopal Church

David Scott was the commander of Apollo 15. Photo: NASA

Scott was the seventh person to walk on the moon (one of four living people to have done so) and the commander of the Apollo 15 mission. When Apollo 15 launched, Scott was carrying the Bible his parish had given him, though it’s unclear whether this was officially allowed. Apollo astronauts were permitted to bring personal items with them in small bags with weight restrictions. Earlier that year, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell took 100 microfilm Bibles – the entire King James Version printed on a 1.5-square-inch piece of film – with him to the surface of the moon, but he brought all of them back to Earth.

Apollo 15 was the first mission to bring a lunar rover to the moon, and Scott was the first person to drive it there. On Aug. 2, 1971, just before returning to Earth, Scott placed the St. Christopher Bible on the lunar rover’s control panel. He walked to a nearby hollow, where he placed a memorial plaque and statuette honoring the astronauts who had died during their missions, and then he returned to the lunar module. (This was kept secret until the post-mission press conference.)

David Scott drives the lunar rover on the moon. Photo: James Irwin/NASA

Scott, who recalled the moment in the book “Two Sides of the Moon,” later presented to his parish a signed copy of a photo showing the Bible sitting exactly where he left it on the lunar rover. That’s where it remains today: in the moon’s Sea of Showers, between Hadley Rille and the Apennine Mountains.

– 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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Incense in doubt as loss of Boswellia trees leads to global shortage of frankincense

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 3:45pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A global shortage of frankincense could threaten the production of church incense which some traditions use during worship as a visible sign of prayers ascending to God. The aromatic resin, used to produce incense, comes from Boswellia, a genus of trees and shrubs from the Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula and India. According to a report in a sustainability journal, there is a danger frankincense supplies will collapse after researchers found the Boswellia trees are being destroyed by cattle farming, drought and conflict.

Read the full article here.

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Translation work completed on world’s first Tokelauan Bible

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 3:41pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The world’s first Bible in Tokelauan is being prepared for publication after the final verse of the new work was translated July 10. It marks the culmination of more than 23 years of work by a team of translators led by head translator Ioane Teao.

Tokelauan is a Polynesian language spoken in Tokelau, on Swains Island in American Samoa, and parts of northern New Zealand.

Read the full article here.

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Anglican Communion’s secretary-general says education is key to peaceful communities

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 3:39pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Education and joint activities across different faiths will help move some of Nigeria’s most divided communities away from hatred and fear, according to the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion Josiah Idowu-Fearon.

“Education is the weapon that we must all be willing to use in our efforts to live in peaceful coexistence with one another. And that is why this institution is important,” Idowu-Fearon said speaking at the graduation of students from Kaduna Centre for the Study of Christian-Muslim Relations in Nigeria.

Read the full article here.

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Church of North India marks 50th anniversary with golden year of celebration

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 3:37pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Church of North India will be using its 50th anniversary this year to review, consult and then re-set its mission priorities for the next 10 years as thousands of people come together from around the country. Starting in November 2019, the golden jubilee to mark the formation of the united Church in North India, will include a year-long celebration including programs, processions, consultations and events.

Read the full article here.

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Episcopal officials defend refugee resettlement after report Trump officials suggest halt to program

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 1:55pm

Syrian refugee Ahmad al Aboud and his family members, on their way to be resettled in the United States as part of a refugee admissions program, walk to board their plane in Amman, Jordan, in 2016. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Trump administration officials reportedly have discussed the option of reducing refugee resettlement to zero in the next federal fiscal year, a move that critics warn could devastate the long-term resettlement capabilities of Episcopal Migration Ministries and the eight other agencies with federal contracts to do that work.

A final decision on resettlement numbers isn’t expected until September – the fiscal year starts in October – but Politico’s July 18 report on the administration’s discussions prompted Episcopal Church officials to affirm the church’s support for the resettlement program and warn against halting it.

“Welcoming the stranger is a core tenant of our faith. Episcopalians around the country in our churches and faith communities stand ready to welcome and embrace refugees,” said the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the Presiding Bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church.

His quote was released as part of a statement from Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM, that urged the Trump administration to return refugee resettlement numbers to historical norms after the sharp cuts of recent years. The ceiling for refugee resettlement was lowered to just 30,000 this year, down from 85,000 before President Donald Trump took office in 2017.

Reducing the ceiling to zero would parallel other policy moves the Trump administration has made to curtail both legal and illegal immigration, after candidate Trump made a hardline approach to immigration a cornerstone of his winning election bid. This week, his administration announced restrictions on protections for asylum seekers, turning away most of those who would arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum. That plan faces legal challenges.

“In light of the recent asylum restrictions, these reports of the administration admitting zero refugees next year are extremely concerning and indicate an attempt to curtail any humanitarian pathways to protection,” Lacy Broemel, policy adviser for The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, told Episcopal News Service in an email. “It’s critical that Episcopalians speak out to their members of Congress to oppose such policies.”

Office of Government Relations has an advocacy page on its website devoted to the refugee resettlement program, and it issued a statement of concern this week in response to the asylum restrictions.

The Politico report is just the latest development to add to the ongoing uncertainty that Episcopal Migration Ministries and other refugee resettlement agencies face in the Trump era. It wasn’t clear until late last fall that all of those agencies’ contracts would even be renewed to help the State Department resettle refugees fleeing war, persecution and other hardships in their home countries.

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf, left, kisses her father, Khaled, as her mother, Fattoum, cries after arriving at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in February 2017. Photo: Reuters

EMM has resettled more than 95,000 refugees since the 1980s, providing a range of services for these families upon their arrival in the United States, including English language and cultural orientation classes, employment services, school enrollment and initial assistance with housing and transportation.

The agency finally received word on Nov. 30, 2018, that the State Department would renew its contracts with all nine agencies, but with the ceiling down to just 30,000 for the year, much of that work already had been reduced. EMM once oversaw 31 resettlement affiliates in 26 dioceses, but now that number is down to 13 affiliates in 11 dioceses.

At a meeting of federal security officials last week, a representative from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suggested lowering the cap to zero, Politico reported, citing unnamed sources who were familiar with that plan. The immigration official and a second official, from the State Department, reportedly argued such a plan was justified by refugee security concerns, adding that protections still would be available through the asylum process.

Homeland Security officials raised the possibility of lowering the cap to 10,000 or as low as 3,000, Politico reported, effectively maintaining only the barest of resettlement programs. An official with Church World Services, one of the nine resettlement agencies, told Politico that such cuts would have long-term negative effects.

“It would mean that the capacity and the ability of the United States to resettle refugees would be completely decimated,” said Jen Smyers, a Church World Service director.

The Department of Defense, in the past, has defended the resettlement program, citing the example of Iraqi refugees who were resettled in the United States after assisting the American military in Iraq. Politico reported former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had advocated keeping the ceiling at 45,000 refugees.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has been vocal in recent months supporting refugees and compassionate immigration policies. He issued a plea to “welcome the stranger” in a video released in June for World Refugee Day, and this week, he released another video message referencing Christian teachings and scripture in lamenting the humanitarian crisis on the United States’ southern border.

Curry, in Panama for Evento Jovenes Episcopales, told ENS on July 19 that he hoped the Politico report was not true.

“But if it’s true, it’s wrong,” Curry said, invoking the symbol of the Statue of Liberty to counter anti-refugee sentiments. “We can be better than this. I know that we can be better than this. We have been, and we must find a way. … America must become America again.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org. Managing editor Lynette Wilson contributed to this report.

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Episcopal-supported NGO empowers Guatemalan teenagers to take charge of their sexual and reproductive health

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 5:01pm

The Guatemala Youth Initiative’s Byron Paredes, sexual and reproductive health educator, and Alison Urbina, program assistant, lead a workshop of sexual and reproductive health for middle school students. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Guatemala City, Guatemala] Eighteen-year-old Ubelia watched as each of her four sisters became a teenage mom. As the fifth and youngest daughter in the family, she didn’t want to follow in the same path. But other than her father offering general “be safe” advice, she didn’t feel she had the education or the information to make informed choices regarding her own reproductive health and pregnancy prevention.

Enter the Guatemala Youth Initiative, a nongovernmental organization founded by Episcopalian Greg Lowden with support from others in The Episcopal Church, especially the Diocese of Virginia, wherein Lowden grew up attending Leeds Episcopal Church in Markham, 60 miles west of Washington, D.C.

“This program saved my life,” said Ubelia, her black hair tied in a tight bun on top of her head, a butterfly earring in each earlobe. “I didn’t know how not to end up like them.”

With 92 out of every 1,000 girls ages 15-19 giving birth, Guatemala has one of the highest adolescent birth rates in Latin America, which as a region ranks second in the world.

Worldwide, 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth daily in developing countries; that’s 7.3 million births annually, according the United Nations Population Fund. The pregnancy rate is even higher when factoring for unviable pregnancies; and each year, tens of thousands of teenage girls die from pregnancy complications and childbirth.

Students at Safe Passage, an NGO that provides educational and other services to at-risk youth living near Guatemala City’s trash dump, affix labels to a diagram of male reproductive anatomy during a Guatemala Youth Initiative workshop. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Lowden founded the Guatemala Youth Initiative in 2013. It empowers youth to make responsible sexual and reproductive health decisions by providing comprehensive sex education workshops in schools; training teen leaders as peer sex educators; and increasing access to family planning services, which are technically available through government-funded healthcare but not always easily accessible.

“Guatemala is a country that has fallen far behind in comprehensive sexual education, contraception and early childhood development compared to the rest of Latin America,” said Lowden. “Sex education and contraception are very much taboo subjects in Guatemala, based on the fear that they will incentivize youth to have sex. Despite contraceptives being available, most contraceptive providers have cumbersome processes for adolescents that make it unlikely for them to seek help.”

Ubelia’s father repairs radios, and her mother works seasonally selling Christmas ornaments. One of her sisters sells candy on a “chicken bus,” as Latin Americans call decommissioned school buses used for public transportation, while the others depend on their husbands. In November, Ubelia will become the first in her family to graduate high school, a special school for secretarial skills.

“I never want to depend on a man for anything; with my diploma I can get a job,” said Ubelia, identified here only by her first name to protect her privacy.

Ubelia’s family lives near the Guatemala City trash dump in a marginalized community that struggles with extreme poverty, family brokenness and crime. When Ubelia, now a peer sex educator, first encountered the Guatemala Youth Initiative during a workshop organized by another NGO providing educational services, a third girl in her social circle had just given birth. As studies show, when a girl becomes pregnant and gives birth, her education and job opportunities diminish.

“In underprivileged communities, most young girls who become pregnant are not able to continue their studies. They suffer social stigma, especially if the father [of the child] doesn’t ‘take responsibility,’ said Lowden. “Before, we saw many cases where the teen mother was either completely dependent on the father or finding a new man. Now, with access to contraception and support programs, we are seeing that pattern change.”

Along with education and contraception, the Guatemala Youth Initiative operates a program for teenage mothers, teaching parenting skills and providing support and community. Teen moms often lack parenting skills, and caring for a baby often means new moms spend a lot of time home alone.

The Guatemala Youth Initiative focuses its work in Zone 3, one of 18 squatter communities surrounding Guatemala City’s trash dump. Residents live side by side in cement-block and sheet-metal homes constructed along narrow walkways bleached by the sun. An area the size of 40 football fields with room for expansion, the trash dump receives two-thirds of the country’s refuse. It’s the largest trash dump in Central America and employs 10,000 workers, the majority laboring six days a week from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., making $5 a day.

Guatemala City’s trash dump is the largest in Central America and employs 10,000 workers, most of whom labor six days a week, 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., for $5 a day. Most of its workers and their families live in extreme poverty in 18 squatter communities surrounding the trash dump. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The dump began operating in the 1950s after the government stopped incinerating trash. In some cases, generations of families have worked there while living in the surrounding communities. Others, fleeing rural poverty, continue to arrive in search of work.

The working and living conditions in the area have attracted the attention of charitable organizations including 30-some NGOs that provide daycare, educational, health, and counseling services to workers and their families.

“The communities around the Guatemala City trash dump are some of the most marginalized urban communities in the entire country,” said Lowden.

“Youth have virtually no access to information about sexual and reproductive health, and even less support for contraception and teen pregnancy,” he said. “We decided to focus on these areas after finding that approximately half of adolescent girls (or more) are becoming teen mothers near the trash dump.”

That finding came through a deliberate evaluation of the communities’ needs. Rather than duplicate services, Lowden, who’d previously worked for an NGO and studied child abuse rates on the ground in Guatemala, decided to conduct a six-month survey of 300 students, teachers, parents and psychologists to understand the problems facing at-risk youth.

Family dysfunction surfaced as the number one problem, which leads youth to spend most of their time away from home in the streets, and to drug and alcohol use. The survey also found that half of the children in the communities were born to teen moms; nearly half of teenagers ages 15-19 were sexually active, with many having multiple partners; and, that the majority of sexually active teenagers used no contraception.

Parents’ long hours working in the trash dump and an absence of a home structure, combined with poverty and the other challenges of living in a high-crime, marginalized community, mean that sometimes the only affection youths receive is from one another, which often leads to sex.

“If you spent your childhood in a dysfunctional household without love, you are going to look for anything that resembles it,” Lowden said. “Most youth at-risk find it through sex during adolescence when the first guy or girl shows them affection.”

The Guatemala Youth Initiative’s Byron Paredes, sexual and reproductive health educator, and Alison Urbina, program assistant, lead a Saturday class of peer sex educators in an exercise that compared the same sexual histories of a male and female teen to reveal inherent biases that applaud behaviors in males and condemn the same behaviors in females. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

At the initiative, Byron Paredes, a sexual and reproductive health educator, and Sophie Swallow, a youth coordinator, have created a secular and a biblical version of the program, the latter making it more appealing to parochial schools. The Roman Catholic and evangelical churches keep a tight grip on society. Still, as teen pregnancy rates soar, society recognizes the need for sex education and easy access to contraception.

Understanding consent, and females understanding that they are in control of their own bodies, also are part of the message, said Swallow. “They are in control of what their future will look like.”

On a June morning, 35 co-ed middle-school students wearing navy blue T-shirts with the words “hope,” “education” and “opportunity” printed on the back in large white letters, gathered in Safe Passage’s school cafeteria for a workshop. On the gray and white concrete wall, facilitators hung four posters depicting male and female anatomy, contraceptive methods and sexually transmitted infections. The workshop began with students shouting out in Spanish the anatomical parts: cervix, fallopian tubes, vagina, penis, testicles, vas deferens.

“We read all the parts of the anatomy and scream them so they know we’re not going to be uptight or squeamish,” said Swallow, as the workshop began.

“I can’t hear you: ‘vagina,’” she shouted.

Understandably, there’s some laughter. And to make it fun and competitive, the facilitators divide the students into two self-named teams. The teams then race to pin prepared construction-paper labels on the corresponding female and male reproductive organs.

The Guatemala Youth Initiative’s Byron Paredes demonstrates how to use a condom properly during a workshop offered to middle school students at Safe Passage. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Swallow and Paredes spent a year editing the workshop and learning how to communicate critical information quickly. Beyond anatomy and the male and female reproductive systems, workshop participants learn about consent, contraceptive methods, IUDs, implants, birth control pills, condoms and STIs. Using a wooden anatomical model, facilitators demonstrate how to put on a condom correctly.

“Condoms are the only method that protect against STIs,” said Paredes, and as he and Swallow both point out, their use requires consent from both parties.

When Paredes isn’t conducting workshops, he consults with clients one on one, answering teens’ questions and providing them with birth control; in some cases, he also consults with their parents, who may also be seeking knowledge about and access to contraception methods.

Swallow – who once transported a carry-on bag full of 3,000 condoms from the United States to Guatemala – admits that when she joined the initiative’s staff, she herself lacked adequate sex education and that Paredes educated her.

“Lack of sexual education is not a Guatemala problem, it’s a global problem,” said Swallow. “I am also a young woman who grew up in an education system that ignored sexuality. Unguided sexuality is a root problem across the globe, and it’s only more dangerous in marginalized communities like Zone 3. Avoiding the topic puts young people at great risk.”

Before joining the Guatemala Youth Initiative’s staff, Swallow, a student on leave from Middlebury College in Vermont, volunteered at a nearby school that closed abruptly. Through connections, she met Lowden; coincidentally, they both grew up in The Episcopal Church. Swallow grew up attending St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina.

From left, the Guatemala Youth Initiative’s Alison Urbina, Byron Paredes and Sophie Swallow walk back to the initiative’s office following a workshop for some 30 students at Safe Passage, a nearby school. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Despite being only 20 years old, Swallow, and Paredes, who is 28, know that peer sex educators are key to running a successful program. Ubelia, for instance, has become an expert, and fellow students at her all-girls school approach her for advice and information, and to correct misinformation. Like when a peer asked her if using contraception would lead to infertility, Ubelia answered, “no.”

The Guatemala Youth Initiative has trained more than 30 peer sex educators, and these teens often go beyond the basics into more profound discussions. It’s the teen sex educators who also refer their friends and peers to Paredes for one-on-one consultations.

“Local youth are perhaps the best suited to educate their peers in topics of sexual and reproductive health. Adolescents are much more likely to confide in one another, and if we arm local youth with correct information and resources, they can take the reins,” said Swallow. “Not only can they explain technical concepts, they can also empower their peers to take control of their futures. By training local youth in reproductive health, we give the power back to the people who need it most.”

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

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Order of the Holy Cross will close monastery and retreat center in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 4:57pm

Mt. Calvary Monastery and Retreat Center, home of the Santa Barbara, California, branch of the Order of the Holy Cross, will close permanently in May 2021, according to Prior Adam McCoy. Photo: Diocese of Los Angeles

[Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles] Mt. Calvary, the monastery and retreat center of the Order of the Holy Cross in Santa Barbara, California, will close in 2021, ending more than 70 years of ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles, according to a July 11 letter from Prior Adam McCoy to OHC associates and supporters.

The directive to close the monastery came from Br. Robert James Magliula, superior of the order, and stemmed less from financial need than from the dwindling number of monks available to staff the retreat center. OHC members at the Santa Barbara facility are Brother Will Brown, who just turned 94, Brother Thomas Schultz, who is 85, and McCoy, age 72.

As quoted by McCoy, Magliula wrote, “At our annual Chapter [meeting] in June we had frank discussions around the fragility of some of our houses and the need to focus our attention on the Order, which is overextended in four locations and three countries. The frailest of the houses is Santa Barbara. The three brothers there have done an admirable job at living the life faithfully and carrying on an extensive guest ministry. This has been accomplished, despite less-than-optimal conditions of age and health, under Adam’s leadership.

“Directed by the Chapter to make a long- and short-term plan, the Council has decided to close Mt. Calvary Monastery no later than our Chapter in 2021, and withdraw from the Diocese of Los Angeles. We have ministered in Santa Barbara and on the West Coast since 1947. At this point in our history, it is just not sustainable to maintain four houses. This is especially true with a growing number of elderly brothers who would be better served in our Assisted Living, which will be expanded in West Park,” the order’s New York headquarters.

McCoy emphasized that the monks will honor their existing retreat commitments and that their staff have pledged to remain with the monastery until it closes. “Through the end of December 2020, we will continue to function as we have,” he wrote. “From Jan. 1 through Sun., Feb. 14, 2021, we will welcome both individuals and groups. During Lent, beginning with Shrove Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, we will welcome individuals only. After Easter, April 4, we will close to retreatants and begin the necessary work to be able to move out by May 31.

“There will be many opportunities for us to share personally over these coming 22-plus months,” McCoy continued. “There will also be several public celebrations of OHC’s more than 70 years of ministry. I pray that we will all take the time to give thanks to God for the incredible blessing Mount Calvary has been, in so many ways for so many people and for so many years.”

“Hearts all over the diocese are saddened by this news,” said Bishop John Harvey Taylor of the Diocese of Los Angeles. “Mt. Calvary is a place of welcome, fellowship, prayer, deep silence, and profound learning. As with the Order of the Holy Cross, our first priority is the care of Brs. Adam, Will, and Tom as well as the lay employees. As for what happens at Mt. Calvary after mid-2021, we look forward to conversations with OHS and other potential partners about what might be possible.”

“My heart hurts as I imagine this beautiful place no longer available to us,” Sister Greta Ronningen, a monk of the Community of Divine Love, San Gabriel, told The Episcopal News. “I’m surely not alone. I have been leading annual yoga and silent retreats there for the last nine years. I will miss dropping into the prayer life of my big brothers and eating the delicious food of our beloved Louis. I will miss sharing a meal with the brothers as they weigh in with joy and wisdom. Nothing can or will replace the sense of a home away from home that I feel when I arrive there.”

The future of the monastery property has not yet been determined. The brothers moved their residence and retreat ministry to the present site next to the old Santa Barbara mission after a devastating fire in 2008 destroyed their scenic Spanish colonial-style monastery, which had been in operation since 1947. Although they first hoped to rebuild on that site on a bluff overlooking Santa Barbara, the projected cost was deemed to be prohibitive, and the property was sold.

“This is what happens. Change happens,” said Ronningen. “And we can only accept with grace what was undoubtedly a difficult decision. We can hold our memories like jewels in our hearts as they are our treasure. We can pray for the brothers as they approach the changes ahead.”

Holy Cross, an Anglican/Episcopal Benedictine order, was established in 1884 and is centered at its monastery in West Park, New York. Other monasteries are located in Toronto, Canada, and in Grahamstown, South Africa.

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World Council of Churches invites all to support Global Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 9:37am

[World Council of Churches] The World Council of Churches invites all people of goodwill to observe a Sunday of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula on Aug. 11.

Each year, Christians are invited to join in a prayer for peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Prepared by the National Council of Churches in Korea and the Korean Christian Federation, the prayer is traditionally used on the Sunday before Aug. 15 every year.

Read the full article here.

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New Hampshire prison softball league connects Episcopalians and inmates in ministry of presence

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 5:11pm

The Diocese of New Hampshire softball team poses for a photo July 16 outside the state’s Correctional Facility for Women in Concord before the team’s final game of the season in a league with a prison team. The league’s coordinator, Dan Forbes, is on the left, and standing next to him is Bishop Robert Hirschfeld. Photo: Dave Deziel/Diocese of New Hampshire

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians may be familiar with Jesus’ assurance that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Members of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Goffstown, New Hampshire, also know this: Two or three, however devout, are not enough to field a softball team.

Whether they bring two, three or a full squad of nine or more players, the Episcopal softball team led by St. Matthew’s parishioner Benge Ambrosi gathers several times each summer in Jesus’ name to play against inmates at the state’s prison for women in Concord. If the visiting team is short on players, the prison team is big enough to provide a few substitutes.

“It’s a ministry of presence. It’s a ministry of companionship,” said Ambrosi, who also works for the Diocese of New Hampshire as chief operating officer and canon for mission resources.

He told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview that the players keep the conversation lighthearted, and the games are well attended by fans – those fellow prisoners who are able and available to come watch. A recent game drew about 50 inmate players and fans, at a prison that typically holds between 100 and 200 inmates. “It’s a big social event for the crowd there,” Ambrosi said.

Ambrosi coaches two teams: one from St. Matthew’s and one whose players come from around the diocese, which is based in Concord. Each team plays two games at the prison, officially known as the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women. The games are part of a larger league that includes four secular teams, including one from the local prosecutor’s office.

The New Hampshire women’s prison team, shown in a 2013 Concord NH Patch photo, played at a detention facility in Goffstown before moving in 2018 to a new prison in Concord. Photo: Tony Schinella/Concord NH Patch

St. Matthew’s has been involved since the league started in 2002. Back then, female prisoners were held at a facility in Goffstown, near St. Matthew’s, and parishioner Barbara Carbonneau coached the congregation’s team. She handed the reins over to Ambrosi a few years ago but still plays. When she turned 83 on July 11, the inmates joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to her on the field.

“They have fun when they’re out there, and we enjoy being there,” Carbonneau told ENS. “It’s just a good time, and it’s a good way to [encourage] Christian fellowship.”

Carbonneau picked up the nickname “Barbed Wire” a few years ago, and the prisoners have an unofficial rule on their team: No one is allowed to get Barb out.

Dan Forbes, a social work professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, organizes the league and serves as volunteer coach of the prisoners’ team. He said in an interview with ENS that the prison team’s pitcher once made the mistake of fielding a ball and throwing Carbonneau out at first.

“My own team booed my pitcher for doing it,” he said.

New Hampshire Bishop Robert Hirschfeld has been known to step into the lineup on the diocesan team, as he did July 16 at the team’s season finale. Hirschfeld’s predecessor, Bishop Gene Robison, devoted a five-page chapter in his 2008 memoir to describing his ministry among the women of the prison, including participation in their softball games.

“Let me tell you, these women play softball!” Robinson wrote. “It’s as close to a near-death experience as I ever hope to have. I fell over my own feet a few times and left the scene dirty and bloody. But I also fell in love with these women.”

Prison softball basically looks like regular softball. The field resembles other ballfields, except the outfield fence is topped with razor wire. The prison provides the equipment. Visiting teams are allowed to bring in only their gloves, hats and sunglasses. All other personal items are left with the guards before passing through security.

After walking through a series of secured doors, the visiting team ends up on the recreational yard, which includes the ballfield. The prisoners join them, and the teams spend 10 to 15 minutes warming up, Ambrosi said. Team colors have changed over the years, with the prisoners going from purple to the current red. The Episcopal teams’ shirts now are blue.

The blue shirts also feature the team’s motto: “Safe at Home With God.”

The visitors bat first. A prisoner who Ambrosi guesses is in her 60s serves as the official scorekeeper. There are some familiar faces year after year; other prisoners are released before making it to their second season.

Conversations between the visitors and the prisoners focus mainly on the game, sometimes including the weather. While other Episcopal ministries offer pastoral support for prisoners, that is not the purpose of the softball games, Ambrosi said.

“It’s more of a friendly ministry,” he said. It also gives his players a brief opportunity to get to know the prisoners. “I don’t think that the everyday Joe in our churches has a lot of exposure to people that are incarcerated, and we might have a different perception of the type of people they are.”

In fundamental ways, Ambrosi said, they aren’t much different from the Episcopal players.

As for athletics, the inmates reveal themselves to be softball players who have had ample time to practice. “They play hard. They’re really good,” Ambrosi said before recounting a tough recent loss, 24-23, to the prisoner team.

The games are played in the evening and last up to two hours. There are no strikeouts. Home runs are common, but the coaches advise against them. Too many home runs over the razor-wire fences and the teams won’t have any balls left to play with, Forbes said.

Forbes, at 65, has many years of experience both supporting the prison – he once served on its advisory board – and coaching softball. As with the teams he used to coach when his daughters played the game, his prison team ends its games by lining up opposite their visiting opponents for hand slaps and expressions of sportsmanship.

“Softball is life,” he said, explaining the sport can teach lessons in teamwork, patience and building relationships.

One prisoner told him she wanted to learn the game so she could play catch with her son once she got out. Another had no interest in the game but joined the team just because it was her only way to get time outside in the recreation yard. Prison life can be “soul-suckingly boring,” Forbes said.

Because of inmate classifications, no one convicted of violent crimes is out on the field during the games, Forbes said, but he rejects arguments that such activities, for any inmate, are inappropriate in a setting intended as punishment for a crime. Those critics are seeing prisoners “strictly from an ideological point of view,” he said, “a distorted belief system.”

Many of the inmates he coaches are struggling to turn their lives around after years of trauma on the outside, he said, and nearly all of them someday will become former inmates. For them to succeed when they return to the world outside, they need to learn how to build positive relationships, Forbes said.

The softball games help.

“The women understand that the community doesn’t reject them,” he said. “The [civilian] players understand that these women are not horrible people. It just really changes up how people feel about other people.”

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

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Anglican Church of Canada suffered a deficit in 2018; dioceses ‘struggling’ to meet financial commitments

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 4:04pm

[Anglican Journal] A fall in revenues, especially contributions from the dioceses, combined with increased expenses to put the Anglican Church of Canada in a deficit position in 2018, General Synod heard Monday, July 15.

The national church’s audited financial statements for the year show that overall revenue was $11.1 million, down by $800,000— 7% —from 2017, Fraser Lawton, bishop of the Diocese of Athabasca and a member of the financial management committee, told General Synod. But expenses were $11.8 million — $400,000 more than the prior year, he said, citing rounded figures from the statements.

Read the full article here.

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Prayer for reconciliation with the Jews passes first reading at Canada’s General Synod

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 3:53pm

[Anglican Journal] An effort to remove a prayer for conversion of the Jews from the Book of Common Prayer and to replace it with one for reconciliation with the Jews has passed its first major hurdle at General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.

On July 15, a resolution to amend Canon XIV passed its first reading at the 42nd General Synod. The amendment would delete prayer number four in “Prayers and Thanksgivings upon Several Occasions” from use and future printings of the prayer book, and replace it with a prayer entitled “For Reconciliation with the Jews.”

Read the full article here.

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