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Teens, not adults, lead Episcopalians in gun-violence protests and marches

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 11:37am

A senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School weeps in front of a cross and Star of David for shooting victim Meadow Pollack while a fellow classmate consoles her at a memorial by the school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 18. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Drake

[Episcopal News Service] Sarah Jacobs, 17, doesn’t feel safe.

After the deadly mass shooting at a Florida school on Feb. 14, the senior at Fishers High School in a suburb of Indianapolis, Indiana, said no school is safe from gun violence anymore, and that’s not right.

Jacob attends St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Carmel, and she’s on the Diocese of Indianapolis youth steering committee. Her committee decided during a Feb. 25 conference call to talk during their March 3-4 youth retreat about how they feel about what happened, what they can do about it and share opportunities.

She hopes to attend the national student-led March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. on March 24, while other teens join local marches on the same day nationwide.

“We like to think it doesn’t affect our area, but it does. It’s not just ‘those’ people. It could happen to anyone, anywhere,” Jacobs told Episcopal News Service just after she got out of class.

At Jacobs’ school and at others nationwide, teens are planning a walkout at 10 a.m. March 14, for 17 minutes, each minute for a person who died at the South Florida school.

It’s been two weeks since 17 people — including 14 teenagers — were killed Feb. 14 by a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida wielding his legally owned military-style AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Since then, Episcopal teenagers and children are among the wave of youth across the United States sparked by the most recent shooting to protest, march and speak out for meaningful gun legislation. Nicholas Cruz, who is charged in the Parkland shooting, used the same kind of gun used in several other mass shootings, most notably at the 2012 shooting that killed 27 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

They cannot ignore thousands of letters! All you have to do is pick up a pen and write! We will make change! #NeverAgain pic.twitter.com/LSv3UUbCXo

— #NeverAgain (@NeverAgainMSD) February 26, 2018

Diocese of Central Pennsylvania Bishop Audrey Scanlan will join a youth group to rally and march at the capitol in Harrisburg on March 24. Clergy is invited to attend, vested in cassocks to be a clear, visible witness, she said. The diocesan website has resources on how to respond to gun violence, and its Facebook page will be updated with local events. There will be rallies also in York, Lancaster and possibly Williamsport, she said. More than 1,000 people expressed interest in the Harrisburg event and more than 4,000 for Lancaster.

Although the Washington D.C. march is only a couple hours away, Scanlan wants to stay local. “The whole idea that this is being led by the students is just tremendous, and I want to support our youth in our schools where we live, which I think is more important,” she said.

Whenever there’s a school shooting, Scanlan thinks of 2006 shooting in West Nickel Mine, Pennsylvania, where a gunman shot 11 people in a one-room Amish school house, killing five girls.

So, with this youth movement, Scanlan refers to the Isaiah 11:6 passage, “a little child will lead them.”

“We as adults have a responsibility to create and maintain a just and peaceful society, and we are failing. Our society is fractured and gun violence is one of the symptoms. When our children rise up, I can do nothing less than follow them. They deserve my support,” Scanlan said.

The Rev. Mark Sims, rector of  St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, Florida, asks people to respect the teens during this tough time and listen to what they have to say. One of the school shooting victims, Carmen Schentrup, a 16-year-old youth group leader, belonged to his parish.

The student body at Saint Edward’s School in Vero Beach, Florida, is not making a public statement, said Monica Jennings, the Episcopal school’s spokeswoman.

“There may be individual students who are interested in participating, but at this time, the school as a whole is not taking any specific action beyond internal communication with our faculty and families,” Jennings told ENS. The school constantly updates and re-evaluates security procedures on campus, a process that was already under way at the time of the Parkland tragedy, she said.

Several Episcopal schools did not reply to ENS inquiries asking for comment, including Episcopal School of Jacksonville, Florida, where the head of school was shot in 2012, in a murder-suicide by a recently fired teacher.

However, the National Association of Episcopal Schools has reached out to school leaders and heard from a number of them that they will be traveling by bus to either to New York or Washington D.C. for marches on March 24, said Jonathan Cooper, the association’s communications manager. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School, a pre-K3 through fifth-grade school in Coconut Grove, Florida, is sending hand-drawn cards to the older students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he said.

Here are some of the hand-drawn cards that students at St. Stephens Day School, a pre-K3 through fifth-grade school in Coconut Grove, Florida, are sending to the older students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Photo courtesy of National Association of Episcopal Schools

Leaders in the Diocese of Washington and Washington National Cathedral are trying to connect out-of-town Episcopal youth groups, clergy and lay leaders who want to bring students to the March 24 rally with hospitality and lodging with their local churches and members.

The Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of New Jersey is organizing buses to D.C. so that members of the Diocese of Newark, the Diocese of New Jersey and the New Jersey Synod of the Lutheran Church can join the March For Our Lives. They’re encouraging churches to send teens with one chaperone for every five teens.

New Jersey Bishop William “Chip” Stokes invites Episcopalians, young and old, across the church to join in local and national events.

“Like so many people across the country, the members of Bishops United Against Gun Violence are enormously grateful to the young people of [Marjory] Stoneman Douglas High School and their peers across the country, who are leading a renewed movement to end gun violence in this country. We are committed to standing in solidarity and anguish with them and supporting their efforts,” Stokes said.

Prayers and action. Time to enact #CommonSenseGunLaws #PrayerAndPolicy pic.twitter.com/DLsGVNTvN7

— Bishop Chip Stokes (@ChipStokesNJ) February 21, 2018

On the same day as the planned school walkouts March 14, at least seven dioceses are hosting Day of Lamentation services, also organized by members of Bishops United Against Gun Violence. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, in Trenton, New Jersey, will be the site of a 12-hour service of prayer and fasting.

As head of Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Rev. Allison Liles has a weekly conference call with about 50 national gun-violence-prevention groups. The fellowship has been working extra hard for this cause the last five years, since Sandy Hook, she said.

But this particular school shooting in Florida has sparked something in the country that hasn’t happened before. I think we’ve moved past despair and sadness and straight into anger and action,” Liles told ENS. “And that’s been the case for a lot of Americans.”

Liles’ 87-year-old grandmother called her the day after the Parkland shooting from her Alabama home, after seeing a woman with the ash cross on her forehead doubling over in grief. The Feb. 14 shooting was Ash Wednesday, as well as Valentine’s Day. Her grandmother, a lifelong Republican NRA-supporter wanted Liles to send her sermons and talks about gun violence.

Parkland, Florida. @AP photo by Joel Auerbach pic.twitter.com/ger2sX1PPA

— Tamara Lush (@TamaraLush) February 14, 2018

“We’d always agreed not to talk about certain issues, this being one them,” Liles said. “Hearing that from her, asking me to help her work for change, made me realize something is different this time.”

Her fellowship’s website offers 10 steps a church can take to reduce gun violence, as well as liturgies on gun violence that clergy and lay leaders can adapt for their own sermons and talks.

Before Liles, her husband and two children moved to Dallas, Texas, in August, they lived in Virginia, where every year on Martin Luther King Day since they were in strollers, she brought her children to an interfaith vigil, rally and lobby day on the Richmond capitol lawn. They would pray on the capital lawn and then meet with lawmakers about preventing gun violence.

“We believe it’s really important to raise kids who know how to pray with their feet. We want to live out our faith not only at home and church, but in the public sphere,” Liles said.

The Rev. Allison Liles, executive director of Episcopal Peace Fellowship, took her kids, Pailet, 6, and son Hill, 9, to gun-violence prevention rallies every Martin Luther King Day at the capitol in Richmond, Virginia, when they lived nearby, to teach justice advocacy from the start. Photo: Rev. Allison Liles

These days, when she or her husband drop off their daughter, Pailet, 6, and son Hill, 9, at school, they emphasize safety in their daily prayers for their children. Liles urges people to overcome their fear of broaching such a controversial issue in church, where many believe politics should be avoided.

“But it’s a matter of life and death, so it’s a matter of faith, and it’s up to us to take away the stigma that says gun violence is not a something we can talk about in churches,” Liles said.

Victoria Hoppes, coordinator of ministries with and for youth in the Diocese of Indianapolis, is helping teens such as Jacobs organize the trip to Washington D.C. Since this movement started, all the diocesan youth ministry coordinators have been in conversation about it, Hoppes said.

“I think we are working with a generation that wants to see positive change and is willing to be a voice for positive change. And we don’t always give them a voice and space to take action. This is a youth movement, so we need to make space for them to lead,” Hoppes told ENS.

The desire to do something is coming directly from the teenagers and isn’t instigated by adults, she said.

The words and actions of Episcopal youth are showing adult Episcopalians how to live out the baptismal covenant in the world, church leaders say.

“I’m really grateful our kids are in churches that recognize that they’re not too young to be concerned,” Liles said. “That’s the narrative that the Florida students are showing. They’re young, but not too young to show concern. Their voice matters.”

Read more about it

A growing list of Episcopal Church-related resources for confronting gun violence is available here.

— Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She can be reached at amysowderepiscopalnews@gmail.com. Editor Mary Frances Schjonberg contributed to this report.

 

Episcopalians offered resources for responding to gun violence

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 11:32am

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal dioceses and other related organizations are recommending resources to help Episcopalians and others respond to violence, especially gun-related violence. Below is a compliation of many of those resources. This list will grow as Episcopal News Service becomes aware of other resources.

Resources for responding to gun violence
From the Episcopal Church

From Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence

Advocating for gun law reform (from the Episcopal Public Policy Network)
Tell Congress to support common sense gun reform

Tell Congress to ban assault weapons

Liturgical resources
From the Episcopal Church

From Bishops United Against Gun Violence

From Episcopal Peace Fellowship

From the Diocese of Newark

Litany in Response to an Act of Mass Violence

Get involved in Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives on March 24
Diocese of Washington resource page

Get involved
Bishops United Against Gun Violence

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episcopal Church shareholder activism works to change gun sale practices

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 6:02pm

Dick’s Sporting Goods said Feb. 28 that it would stop selling assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and would no longer sell firearms to anyone younger than 21. Photo: Dick’s Sporting Goods

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council in late January authorized its Committee on Corporate and Social Responsibility to join an attempt to convince Dick’s Sporting Goods to abide by the Sandy Hook Principles developed to stem the tide of gun violence.

A little more than a month later, the Pittsburgh-based retailer announced Feb. 28 that it would stop selling assault weapons at its 35 Field & Stream stores.

The company had removed them from all Dick’s stores after the Sandy Hook massacre. The company also said it would no longer sell firearms to anyone younger than 21, and it would no longer sell high-capacity magazines. And, Dick’s said, it has never and will never sell bump stocks that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly.

Dick’s also called on elected officials to ban assault-style firearms, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks; raise the legal minimum age to purchase firearms to 21; require universal background checks that include relevant mental health information and previous interactions with law enforcement; build what it called a “complete universal database of those banned from buying firearms; and close the private sale and gun show loophole that waives the necessity of background checks. All of the company’s actions and its message to government officials fit into the Sandy Hook Principles.

The shareholder activism of the Episcopal Church and other religious institutional investors was not the sole cause of Dick’s decision, but those involved say it had some influence on a company that was considering a change.

The Episcopal Church does not invest in gun manufacturers but, it does own stock in Dick’s Sporting Goods. The Pension Fund does not hold any investments in companies that manufacture or sell guns, according to C. Curtis Ritter, the head of corporate communications. And, unlike some investors, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (the name under which the Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business and carries out mission) has never purchased stock for the sole purpose of engaging in a shareholder action, the Rev. Brian Grieves, chair of council’s corporate and social responsibility committee, or CCSR, told Episcopal News Service. And, both Grieves and Ritter said they are not are aware of any indirect investments in these types of companies in the pooled funds in which their organizations invest.

However, the church was involved in the effort to convince Dick’s to change. After Executive Council approved the committee’s involvement, Grieves said, it joined with five Roman Catholic groups to engage Dick’s Sporting Goods in a dialogue about its gun sales.

That effort actually began in July 2017 when a representative of Mercy Investment Services Inc. wrote to Ed Stack, Dick’s chairman and chief executive officer, asking the company to report on actions, if any, it had taken “on elements such as those based on Sandy Hook Principles.” Mercy is the asset management program for the Sisters of Mercy and its ministries.

The retailer did not respond to the letter, Grieves said, and so Mercy, four other Roman Catholic religious orders and the DFMS filed a shareholder resolution. The filing occurred via the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an organization that helps religious organizations pool their shareholder power to which both the DFMS and the Church Pension Group belong.

“They finally responded to that, and were agreeable to a dialogue” Grieves said.

“It was a very productive and very good meeting and they seemed to be very interested in having good procedures in place for how they sell these weapons. And so, in order to continue that dialogue we agreed to withdraw” the shareholder resolution, he explained.

Then, the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, happened. Stack said that the company founded by his father had sold a gun to 19-year-old Nicholas Cruz, the suspect in the shooting that left 17 students and adults dead. That gun was not used in the school shooting but, according to Stack, that knowledge moved the company to action.

William McKeown, a CCSR member, said that it is important to remember that “the community of investors of faith has been working on gun safety for years.” The shareholder resolution with Dick’s Sporting Goods “was just one small piece of a wider effort, and no one thought then that it would be — or thinks now that it was — anything like a decisive act.”

“But it helped. The lesson: This work is worth doing.”

Chairman and CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods tells @GStephanopoulos why the company has decided to no longer sell assault style rifles or firearms to anyone under 21 years of age, and no longer sell high capacity magazines. pic.twitter.com/xiuMfqIZLd

— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 28, 2018

McKeown cautioned that, despite the Dick’s Sporting Goods decision, more work needs to be done, and Grieves agreed, saying that an area where investors can be immediately effective has arisen in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre.

“As investors, we also need to thank and support those companies that are severing ties to the NRA” such as rental car agencies, insurance companies and airlines, he said. “The pushback on them is and will be fierce, and we need to let them know we have their back on their actions.”

“We own stock in a lot of those companies,” Grieves added.

While many companies initially won praise for their actions, a backlash is developing. For instance, Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Republican with an A-plus grade from the National Rifle Association, is leading an effort to get that state to rescind a $50 million sales tax exemption on jet fuel. The exemption was instituted in hopes that Atlanta-based Delta Airlines would add more routes and thus help Atlanta attract more business.

Shareholder engagement is nothing new for the Episcopal Church

CCSR’s roots were at least partially planted during the effort to use the world’s economic power to break apartheid’s hold on South Africa. In 1985, the General Convention directed the Executive Council to divest itself of all holdings in companies doing business in South Africa and Namibia and urged all other church investors to do the same.

Since then, the work of the variously named committee that is now known as CCSR has waxed and waned, but some Episcopalians have always believed, McKeown said, that the church can leverage its investments to advocate for the things in which it believes. The Episcopal Church has about $454 million in investments, and the Church Pension Fund controls about $13.2 billion. Joining with other faith-based investors , they focus on certain areas of concern.

The Pension Fund concentrates on environmental sustainability, human rights violations and corporate executive and board diversity. The DFMS, through the corporate and social responsibility committee, currently concentrates on product and gun safety, human rights, indigenous rights, climate change and environmental sustainability, Israel-Palestine issues and corporate accountability and board diversity.

The CCSR does not make any investment decisions. The Executive Council Investment Committee oversees the DFMS’ investment activity. Grieves and McKeown said the CCSR knows it can only act within the bounds of the policies set by General Convention and through the church’s current investments.

While the Episcopal Church does not invest in gun manufacturers as a matter of course, it does not have a specific prohibition against such investments. There are so-called no-buy lists against investing in tobacco companies, for-profit prison companies and companies that earn more than a specific percentage of their business as military contractors.

The DFMS treasurer’s office says it invests with what it calls “a trinity of avoidance, affirmative action, and advocacy” in mind. Avoidance means not investing in companies whose activities are contrary to the church’s social and moral values. Affirmative investing involves investing in institutions that can provide financial resources to underserved communities. Advocacy centers on voting proxies and activism that “focus on constructively influencing corporate behavior.”

The work ahead

“The corporate world for once is leading the way while our legislators try to have it both ways” Grieves said. “As an ethical investor, the church must engage the work of socially responsible investing. It, too, is part of our witness in the Jesus Movement.”

The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations is working hard on Capitol Hill, Grieves said. On Feb. 28, it issued an action alert for Episcopalian’s to advocate for an assault weapons ban.

ACTION ALERT: Tell Congress To Ban Assault Weapons https://t.co/LTqe33qPxn pic.twitter.com/9Jhaj38RGS

— The EPPN (@TheEPPN) February 28, 2018

The CCSR sometimes continues to leverage the church’s investments even after the majority of a stock is sold for portfolio management reasons. Grieves said the committee can ask to retain the minimum value of shares needed to continue to monitor a company’s activities and engage with their operations.

Grieves’ committee is due to meet again in late March, and he said the members will discuss next steps on gun control issues. It might suggest that Executive Council consider making a statement about following on the Dick’s Sporting Good action and the decisions by other companies to sever ties with the NRA, he said.

It might also suggest a similar statement by the General Convention during its July meeting in Austin, Texas. That convention’s Committee on Stewardship and Socially Responsible Investing would likely consider any resolutions dealing with shareholder advocacy and other issues surrounding those types of investments.

McKeown cautioned that no one part of advocacy will result in change.

“I don’t think this is the way to save the world,” he said of shareholder engagement, even though he is deeply involved in the effort. “It is a useful approach because  … everything is monetized and financialized so these investments provide access points for influencing decision-making and influencing behavior and influencing policy.

“But they are not the only ones by any means. If you just relied on these, you wouldn’t get very far. They have to be used with everything else that everybody can think of, including marching on the streets and writing to your congressman and running for election and making contributions to good causes whether they are political or not and doing your own work in your neighborhood.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

Anglican bishops in New Zealand speak out against moves to legalize euthanasia

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 1:12pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Eight Anglican bishops have called for a halt to the End of Life Choice Bill, which proposes legalizing medically-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Aotearoa New Zealand. In their submission to the Justice Select Committee on the End of Life Choice Bill this week, the bishops recommended no change to existing laws, and called for more funding of palliative care and counseling support for patients and their families.

Read the full article here.

The Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche joins Church Investment Group Board of Trustees

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 1:01pm

[Church Investment Group] The Church Investment Group welcomes the Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, Episcopal Diocese of New York, to its Board of Directors. An advocate for addressing climate change as well as ethical investing, Bishop Dietsche joined the board to help further its mission of encouraging environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing so that Episcopal organizations can join together in shared faith and values while realizing the benefits of scale in investing.

Speaking about the Episcopal Diocese of New York’s, as well as his own, commitment to taking action related to climate change, Bishop Dietsche said, “We are confident that if we don’t take active steps in this area, the time will arrive when young people seeking to come to know God and to know God more fully will no longer see our churches as sacred spaces. We are equally adamant that they must and are to that end determined to make our churches places that are unmistakable marks of our commitment to rejoining the world in a more sustainable way.”

Bishop Dietsche was one of the 17 Anglican bishops from across the world who issued a “Call to Urgent Action for Climate Change” at The World is Our Host conference in South Africa in 2015. The bishops wrote that “the climate change crisis is the most urgent moral issue of our day.” In November of that year, the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York urged the fiduciary bodies of all Episcopal institutions in the Diocese to consider adopting or strengthening ethical investment guidelines and divesting from fossil fuel companies, especially coal companies. In response, the Investment Committee of the Diocese of New York, working in conjunction with the Church Investment Group and ratified by the Trustees, decided to minimize the diocesan portfolio’s exposure to the equity and fixed-income securities of fossil fuel companies.

The resulting diocesan portfolio, using ESG approaches to its equity and fixed-income holdings, minimizes exposure to energy companies.

“A company’s behavior impacts the real world and they are a critical component in the solution,” says JoAnn Hanson, Church Investment Group president and chief executive officer. “ESG investment approaches identify those companies which have proactive strategies relating to climate change, as well as other important social and governance matters. Investors, in turn, can profitably invest with proactive companies and influence the behavior of the corporate world.”

“Fossil fuel-free investing is gathering momentum,” Hanson added, “and it has given us an opportunity to introduce the church to ESG principles. Episcopal organizations can help to finance positive change while earning a good return on their investments.

The group uses the investment firm Hirtle Callaghan as its chief investment officer. “Our relationship with Hirtle Callaghan allows us bring the strength of multi-billion-dollar purchasing power and investment experience to work for church organizations,” noted Hanson.

Episcopal organizations interested in ESG and fossil fuel-free investing should contact Hanson at jhanson@churchinvestment.org`

The Church Investment Group is a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity working exclusively for the Episcopal Church.  CIG has been designed to allow Episcopal organizations to invest in the same fashion as the largest endowments or pension plans through management by full time professionals who employ a consistent, value-oriented investment philosophy.

New dean appointed to lead Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Paul in downtown Boston

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 12:59pm

[Diocese of Massachusetts] The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, has appointed the Rev. Amy Ebeling McCreath as the new dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in downtown Boston.

McCreath will be the ninth dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, which was established as the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in 1912.  She succeeds former dean John P. Streit Jr. who retired last February after a 21-year tenure.  McCreath is the first woman to serve as cathedral dean in the Diocese of Massachusetts.  She begins in her new position on Sunday, April 22.

The Rev. Amy Ebeling McCreath

“Amy has exceptional gifts as a leader, with a demonstrated capacity to reimagine congregational identity, build partnerships in the wider community, draw others into shared ministry and navigate institutional systems with the personal heart of a pastor.  She is already regarded with esteem by colleagues throughout our diocese.  We look forward to welcoming her in this vital role,” Gates said.

McCreath is the rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Watertown, Mass., where she has served for eight years.  Prior to her call to Watertown, McCreath was, for nine years, co-chaplain of the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and was coordinator of the Technology and Culture Forum there.

“I am honored to be called to serve as dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul and look forward to working with the bishops, the staff and all those serving at and served by the cathedral to amplify the mission of the diocese.  At this time of deep moral and political strain in the life of our nation and uncertainty in the lives of God’s people, the mission strategy to which God calls us is urgent.  I believe the cathedral can be a great resource to move that mission forward and bring hope and joy to many lives,” McCreath said.

McCreath grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics, with a certificate in Russian studies, from Princeton University and a master’s degree in American history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She was a high school history teacher before attending seminary at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary.  She graduated with a Master of Divinity degree in 1998 and was ordained a priest that same year in the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee.  She served for three years at St. Christopher’s Church in River Hills, Wisc., first as assistant rector and then as priest-in-charge.

In the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, she has been a member of the diocesan Standing Committee (an elected council of advice to the bishop) and a co-convener of the 16 Episcopal churches that comprise the diocese’s Alewife Deanery.  She is a member of the Council of Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission and has served the wider Episcopal Church on subcommittees of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, the planning team for the 2013 GenX clergy gathering and as coordinator for ministry in higher education for the Episcopal Church’s New England dioceses.  She has been a supervisor to many seminary field education students and interns and recently served as director of contextual education at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., for two and a half years.  She and her husband, Brian McCreath, are the parents of twins.

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, located at 138 Tremont Street in downtown Boston, is the symbol and center of the pastoral, liturgical and teaching ministry of the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.  The cathedral church welcomes all, seeking to fulfill its mission as a house of prayer for all people.  In addition to Sunday morning services in English and bilingual Spanish-English services on Wednesday afternoons, its ministries include The Crossing, an emergent church community of young adults that gathers on Thursday evenings; the Episcopal Chinese Boston Ministry; a Monday lunch program and MANNA, a ministry with the homeless community in downtown Boston.  The Cathedral Church of St. Paul also offers hospitality to its Muslim neighbors who gather weekly there for Friday prayers.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts comprises 180 congregations in cities and towns throughout eastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the islands.  The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts is part of the wider Episcopal Church, which in turn is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Sewanee administrators, faculty urge regents to rescind Charlie Rose’s honorary degree

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 5:38pm

[Episcopal News Service] Top administrators and faculty members at Sewanee: The University of the South are recommending that the university rescind journalist Charlie Rose’s honorary degree in the aftermath of a sexual harassment scandal, and they are pushing for new procedures to guide reconsideration of such degrees after they have been awarded.

The University Senate – which includes the vice-chancellor, provost, chaplain, deans and all full professors – voted unanimously Feb. 26 to approve an advisory motion asking Sewanee’s Board of Regents to revoke Rose’s honorary degree. The regents had decided earlier this month to let Rose keep the degree.

No official statement was immediately available from the Board of Regents. A university spokeswoman said the regents may be called together at any time by the chair to consider the Senate’s motion.

Complaints about the regents’ inaction escalated into a protest on campus Feb. 22 that reportedly drew more than 200 people. On Feb. 27, Vice-chancellor John McCardell Jr., in announcing the Senate’s actions, affirmed the university’s stance “against sexual misconduct of any sort on campus and in the workplace,” and he alluded to the growing controversy over the university’s lack of action against Rose.

“This past week has made us all painfully aware of both our institutional aspirations and the ways in which we still fall short of meeting them,” he said in a letter addressed to the university community. “I pledge my own continued involvement and energy in articulating and advancing those aspirations, civilly and respectfully, and those many things we need yet to do to bring us closer to their attainment.”

Rose, known for his work as host of “Charlie Rose” on PBS and Bloomberg and co-anchor on CBS’ “This Morning,” was dropped in November by all three broadcasters after the Washington Post reported on eight women’s allegations that Rose had made unwanted sexual advances toward them, including lewd comments, groping and walking around naked in their presence.

Rose issued an apology for his “inappropriate behavior” and admitted he had “behaved insensitively at times,” though he also disputed the accuracy of some of the allegations. He was one of a series of prominent men from the world of entertainment, media and politics to suddenly fall from grace last year amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

My statement in full. pic.twitter.com/3kvFrqF2dT

— Charlie Rose (@charlierose) November 20, 2017

Sewanee, which is owned and governed by 28 Episcopal dioceses, presented Rose with an honorary degree when he delivered the university’s commencement address in spring 2016. After his career was derailed by scandal, pressure mounted at Sewanee to revoke the degree. Two student trustees wrote to the Board of Regents earlier this month recommending that action, but the regents rebuffed such calls, saying, “we do not believe it is our place to condemn the individual.”

Charlie Rose delivers the commencement address in May 2016 at Sewanee: The University of the South. Photo: Sewanee

The regents also defended their decision by saying it was in keeping with a spirit of Christian forgiveness. Those arguments prompted a rebuttal from eight professors in the School of Theology, who released a letter Feb. 19 calling for the university to take the degree back “to demonstrate in symbol and in substance that it respects the dignity of every human being.”

A complication in the debate, as McCardell noted in his statement, is that the university doesn’t have a clear process for reconsidering an honorary degree. The University Senate, which has the power to recommend individuals to be honored, also voted on Feb. 26 to instruct its Honorary Degree Committee to draft procedures that can be discussed and acted upon.

“As a result, there will be a process, where none had existed, for the orderly review of an honorary degree once awarded,” McCardell said. That process, too, will need to be approved by the Board of Regents before taking effect

Four Episcopal bishops and three Episcopal priests sit on the 20-member Board of Regents, including Florida Bishop Samuel Howard, who serves as an ex officio board member because of his position as Sewanee chancellor.

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

Episcopalians confront hard truths about Episcopal Church’s role in slavery, black history

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 4:19pm

Vivian Evans, center, shares her thoughts after “The Birth of a Nation” film screening at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan Feb. 22. The Diocese of New York designated 2018 as “The Year of Lamentation” for its role in slavery — one Episcopal effort among many across the United States. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] Brutal scenes of physical and psychological violence in the 2016 film “The Birth of a Nation” flashed across a screen set up inside a small chamber at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  A few viewers turned away, while some gasped and others watched steadily.

The film is based on the true story of Nat Turner, a slave preacher who led a rebellion in 1831.

Vivian Evans, 82, didn’t turn away.

“When I was 10 years old, I interviewed friends of my grandmother’s in Mississippi who had been slaves. She had me pick cotton to see what it was like, and I pricked my fingers just like they did in the movie,” Evans,  a member of Trinity St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Rochelle, New York, told the others during a discussion after the film.

“The Birth of a Nation” is a 2016 film inspired by the true story of Nat Turner, a lay preacher slave who led a rebellion in 1831. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Episcopal Diocese of New York Reparations Committee on Slavery organized the film screening and discussion as part of its Year of Lamentation to examine the diocese’s role in slavery. It’s one of a growing number of events across the United States as the Episcopal Church seeks racial reconciliation and healing among its congregations and wider communities.

“Lamentation is actually an opportunity; it’s beginning to open our eyes to what actions are possible for us. We can’t do that until we’ve owned our beginnings more fully,” said the Rev. Richard Witt, executive director of the statewide nonprofit Rural & Migrant Ministry and member of the Episcopal diocese’s reparations committee.

Black history in the Episcopal Church

Although much has been done at more recent General Conventions and throughout the church, this New York committee was created 12 years ago in response to three 2006 General Convention resolutions. One resolution asked the church to study its complicity and economic benefits from the slave trade. A second resolution said to “engage the people of the Episcopal Church in storytelling about historical and present-day privilege and under-privilege as well as discernment towards restorative justice and the call to fully live into our baptismal covenant.” The last resolution called for the church to support legislation for reparations for slavery.

In 2014, the New York diocese created a three-part video examining slavery available on YouTube. The committee has since established a prayer blog and is asking priests to integrate these messages into their sermons. The Year of Lamentation includes a schedule of community events, from book and film discussions to walking tours, pilgrimages and forums. Organizers said they are especially proud of the theatrical presentation, “New York Lamentation,” featuring figures in the history of the diocese, from clergy to slaves and lay people, revealing how a number of churches were built by slaves. The show premiered in Staten Island Jan. 21, and continues in Poughkeepsie March 4, in Manhattan Sept. 23, and in White Plains Oct. 14.

“This is not about trying to lay guilt on people. It’s about what we’ve done institutionally and systemically. The notion of white supremacy is woven into the fabric of this country,” historian Cynthia Copeland told Episcopal News Service. She’s co-chairwoman of the reparations committee and member of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery in Manhattan. “If you take time to remove yourself personally and detach, it may be a little bit more palatable to take off those defenses and listen, instead of hanging onto those myths established in our society.”

“We’re asking people to think more critically of where we’re heading,” Copeland said. “This is not a one-time, check-it-off-your-list thing. It is about really internalizing this and making a lifelong work of questioning, having discussions, listening.”

Church practices have treated African-Americans as “other,” dependents in need of charity similar to those in mission fields abroad, rather than as equal citizens, according to a St. Mark’s timeline on events of African Americans’ struggle for recognition in the Episcopal Church.

February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African-Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history. On Feb. 13, Episcopalians often commemorate the Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African American priest ordained in the Episcopal Church. While that history includes notable achievements, it’s mired in oppression and inhumane treatment, which is also woven throughout Episcopal history — whether or not churchgoers talk about it, Copeland said.

The Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African American priest ordained by the Episcopal Church.

But Episcopalians must talk about the horrors of the past and the inequalities of today, as well as do something to change the present and future — not just in February, or this year, but indefinitely, said the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop on evangelism, reconciliation and creation care.

Becoming Beloved Community is a four-part vision

To help dioceses and congregations take on this lifelong mission, in the spring of 2017, the Episcopal Church released its “Becoming Beloved Community” vision for racial reconciliation efforts. General Convention in 2015 allotted $2 million to this work.

The release followed a year of listening, consulting and reflection by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings and the other officers of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. They invited Episcopalians to study and commit to this mission.

The vision is four-fold, and more like a lifelong labyrinth rather than a chronological to-do list. The first part though, must be done before the others are possible, however, Spellers and other racial healing activists say.

Telling the truth: “Who are we? What things have we done and left undone regarding racial justice and healing?” Church-wide initiatives include a census of the church and an audit of racial justice in Episcopal structures and systems.

Proclaiming the dream: How can we publicly acknowledge things done and left undone? What does Beloved Community look like in this place? What behaviors and commitments will foster reconciliation, justice, and healing? Initiatives include holding regional, public sacred listening and learning engagements, launching a story-sharing campaign and allocating the budget for lifelong formation of transformation.

Repairing the breach: What institutions and systems are broken? How will we participate in repair, restoration, and healing of people, institutions, anod systems? Initiatives focus on justice reform, re-entry collaboratives with formerly incarcerated people returning to community and partnership with Episcopal Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

Practicing the way: How will we grow as reconcilers, healers and justice-bearers? How will we actively grow relationship across dividing walls and seek Christ in the other? This also involves the Becoming Beloved Community story-sharing campaign, as well as reconciliation and justice pilgrimages; multi-lingual formation and training; and liturgical resources for healing, reconciliation and justice.

And in the past year, leaders nationwide have made a great start, Spellers said.

“What the presiding bishop and the officers hoped for was to offer up a framework, not necessarily a program, for racial reconciliation,” Spellers told Episcopal News Service. “Do your discernment. What does it look like to tell the truth about your church, who we are and who we have not welcomed over the year? Do your discernment over what it looks like to practice love, to be reconcilers and healers, what you need to do to repair the breach.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Iowa hosted a community conversation to address racial equity gaps in education in the Iowa City school district on Jan. 22. Photo: the Rev. Meg Wagner/Diocese of Iowa

What other churches and dioceses are doing

“While I’m proud of what they’re doing here in New York, this diocese is by no means the first to grab this and run,” Spellers said.

Washington National Cathedral was one of the first to sign on, doing conversations on the church’s legacy of slavery, including their windows, which depicted the Confederate flag and Civil War. Cathedral leaders continue to host public programs, which are live-streamed for the rest of the Episcopal Church to participate. The Episcopal Church is a co-sponsor of this, which is a strong example of the second part of the labyrinth,  Spellers said.

Based in Seattle, Washington, Heidi Kim, staff officer for racial reconciliation, justice and creation care for the Episcopal Church, recently talked with Episcopalians in Massachusetts, where they’re doing an audit of the ordination process, studying the people who’ve dropped out and looking at patterns of exclusion that people of color, women and LGBTQ might be experiencing.

Kim has visited Southern dioceses with historically black and historically white parishes in small towns where they can no longer afford to operate as separate congregations and need to merge.

Often, separate parishes exist because the black church members weren’t allowed to go to the white church. The black churches are smaller and in need of more repairs compared to the white churches, she said. They need to engage in story-sharing, discuss what to celebrate and what they will lose when they merge, she said.

“This is not just about getting stuck in the guilt, but remembering those difficult dark moments of the past, not to shame and blame people, but so that we don’t make those same mistakes again,” Kim told Episcopal News Service. “This is part of our baptismal covenant, to repent and turn to a new way. People of good will and intentions allowed some pretty terrible things to happen. And it’s easy to do if we’re not intentional and creating beloved spaces for everyone.”

The Episcopal Church has partnered with the Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community Commission on Dismantling Racism, putting $50,000 into the efforts, said author and activist Catherine Meeks, the commission’s chairwoman.

Meeks is also founding executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, which opened in October in Atlanta for the benefit of not just Georgia, but the wider church.

As part of this effort, the diocese organized a Province IV conversation, which drew representatives of 20 dioceses, as a pilot for a wider conversation scheduled for Feb. 28-March 1, drawing representatives from at least 28 dioceses, from Minnesota to Missouri. It’s for Episcopalians involved in racial healing work to share what they’re doing and how they want the center to be involved in what they do going forward. Meeks is trying to create a better communications system so that people don’t feel alone in their work.

But this work isn’t just for church leaders, Meeks emphasizes. Nor is it only for churches with diverse congregations.

“People in predominately white congregations think there is nothing they can do because there aren’t any other kinds of people there, but connect with someone you don’t normally talk to. Try to build a bridge with anyone you see as ‘other’ in any way, like politically, or economically,” Meeks told Episcopal News Service.

“Racism is one kind of oppression, but there are many other kinds of oppression we live by. Any time you make an effort to be more open and caring and courageous, that will spill out into all the rest of your life. There is always some ‘other,’ alien-ness.”

People have to find what resonates with them, she said, encouraging Episcopalians to start book studies or something as simple as inviting someone unfamiliar out for coffee. “You do have to do something. You don’t get to just sit around and think about it for the rest of your life,” Meeks said.

Letting a person of color, or anyone who feels oppressed, share her or his experience, without interrupting, judging, correcting or editing it, is key, Meeks said.

Churchwide organizations, provinces and dioceses are joining the effort

Criminal-justice reform and helping previously incarcerated people re-enter the community was the focus of a Province 8 fall conference, which includes Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Navajoland, California, Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.

The United Thank Offering ministry identified Becoming Beloved Community as its 2018 grant theme, asking grant applicants to show how they would put the vision into action. “That’s going to spark all kinds of engagement, because once you have the money, you can take your idea and execute it,” Spellers said.

Bishops from the Diocese of Indianapolis, Northern Indiana and the Lutheran Indiana-Kentucky Synod meet regularly to plan how engage in the Becoming Beloved Communion vision, releasing a video to encourage story-sharing.

Telling the truth, proclaiming the dream, repairing the breach and practicing the way are the four parts of the Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community vision, which the Diocese of Iowa is interpreting locally to meet community needs. On Feb. 10, there was a church leader training. Photo: the Rev. Meg Wagner/Diocese of Iowa

The Diocese of Iowa is creating a new Racial Justice Center in the heart of Iowa City, using the church’s Becoming Beloved Community guide as its framework. “Those people are on fire. They’re amazing,” said Spellers, who was the keynote speaker for the annual diocesan conference in October. “They want the rest of the heartland to follow.”

The diocese received a Mission Enterprise Zone grant of $75,000 for the center and its work.

The area has struggled with its changing demographics, said the Rev. Meg Wagner, the diocese’s missioner for communication and reconciliation. “We’ve heard things like ‘I don’t see color,’ that we don’t have a race problem because we’re mostly white, or because we’re surrounded by mostly white people, we don’t know how to talk about race and deal with our white guilt,” she said. “There’s a recognized need for more understanding of our history of race and oppression.”

There will be community discussions on equity gaps in education; pilgrimages following the underground railroad; an urban retreat with meditation; Freedom School curriculum, founded during the 1960s Civil Rights era to empower black Americans; a summit for women and girls of color; and a summer tour to prepare young black students for college.

“We want this to be about empowering people to be nonviolent agents for change in the world,” Wagner said.

This church-wide effort is by no means a straight, clear path, leaders say. That’s why Becoming Beloved Community is a labyrinth, she said.

“You just have to keep walking this path; it’s going to last a lifetime,” she said. “And just like a labyrinth, you’re never finished. But standing still is not an option for us anymore, as far as we’re concerned.”

— Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She can be reached at amysowderepiscopalnews@gmail.com

Episcopal Diocese of Lexington selects new bishop provisional

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 10:32am

[Episcopal Diocese of Lexington] The Rt. Rev. Mark Van Koevering has been selected as the new bishop provisional for the Diocese of Lexington in eastern Kentucky. After learning of the Rt. Rev. Bruce Caldwell’s intent to resign, the standing committee entered into a process of discernment with the Office of Pastoral Development for the Episcopal Church and other leaders within the diocese.

This led to a motion, made by the Rev. Matthew Young, president of standing committee, at the 122nd annual diocesan convention on Feb. 24, inviting the diocese to place itself under the provisional charge and authority of Van Koevering.

“What impresses me the most about Bishop Van Koevering is his ability to articulate how important his relationship with Jesus Christ truly is and, based on that, how he lives with an expectation of God to act,” Young said. “The Diocese of Lexington should very much benefit from Bishop Van Koevering’s honesty, integrity and maturity.”

Van Koevering

The motion passed with an overwhelming positive response from deputies of convention. Van Koevering’s ecclesiastical authority begins immediately at the close of convention, and he will take up residence in the diocese at the beginning of April.

Van Koevering and his wife, the Rev. Helen Van Koevering, spent 13 years in the Anglican Diocese of Niassa in Mozambique, where he served as the bishop. He resigned that position to return to the United States and serve as assisting bishop in West Virginia.Van Koevering brings gifts for ministry and experience that will benefit some particularities in the Lexington diocese, especially ministry in Appalachia and on behalf of small congregations.

He is pleased to be able to join the diocese in mission and ministry: “After meeting with the standing committee, the Episcopal election planning committee, the diocesan staff and most of the clergy of the diocese, I have grown increasingly encouraged by what I have heard and seen. God is at work among you,” Van Koevering said.

“I want to thank you for your trust and confidence. It is a precious gift and a solemn responsibility that you offer, and I look forward to working with you as together we join God’s mission adventure.”

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