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On the anniversary of Sandy Hook, a mother’s gratitude for her child’s faith

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 10:47am

Tain Scott wears pictures on his vest of his godbrother, Ben, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary when a gunman blasted his way into the building. Tain’s mother, Sophfronia Scott, printed two photos of Tain and Ben playing in a pile of leaves in her yard after Tain requested to wear them to Ben’s funeral. She fastened them with paper clips to Tain’s vest. Photo: Sophfronia Scott

[Religion News Service — Newtown, Connecticut] Five years ago my son, Tain, was sitting in his third-grade classroom in Sandy Hook Elementary when a gunman blasted his way into the building and killed 26 adults and children — including Tain’s godbrother, Ben — whose mother is Tain’s godmother.

I barely have words for the grief that washed over us. I wasn’t sure how to help Tain deal with the life-shattering effects of such a horrific tragedy. Eventually I sensed I had to walk through it with my son — and sometimes let him lead the way.

Only Tain knows the depth of his loss and the shock of realizing a child even younger than himself can die. He has few words for the magnitude of what happened but I knew he had to work his own grief, and the way he did so would determine the way in which he walked through the world — whether he could live in faith and not fear.

All I could do was listen. My own grief overwhelmed me, though, and I wanted, needed, to feel in faith that I could grasp a sense of my own hope and positivity again. But in a season when the worst had happened, how could I summon such faith? Muscle memory or, more accurately, heart memory came into play.

Our pastor, Kathie Adams-Shepherd, said faith is people showing up for you. She would reiterate it many times in those days. Perhaps this is what Tain experienced. I now see I was holding fast to faith when I stood with him in his pain. And this is what he needed. I suppose God had worked on me, opening my eyes and ears to what Tain was telling me.

Here’s what I mean. Tain was getting dressed for Ben’s funeral, looking at himself in the mirror. He was quiet. Then he said this: “I want to wear pictures of Ben.”

“Well, remember we’re all wearing pictures of Ben.”

I showed him the square badges a friend had made so we could tell who was family and to make sure we were all seated together at Newtown’s Trinity Episcopal Church. We knew it would be packed.

“No,” Tain said. “I want pictures of me and Ben.”

“OK,” I said slowly. Time was getting short. I was responsible for driving a van of family members to the church. But I knew this was a request that had to be honored.

I went to the kitchen computer with photos my husband, Darryl, and I had put aside for the wake. I printed up two of Tain and Ben playing in a pile of leaves in our yard. I cut them into squares and fastened them with paper clips to Tain’s vest.

“Is that good?”

He nodded and smiled.

At the church, whenever anyone asked Tain about the pictures he talked about Ben, who was his godbrother, and how much fun they had playing in the leaves. In the months to come he surprised me by how quick he was to talk about Ben. When we met strangers and they’d find out where we’re from, they’d ask the inevitable questions. I would deliver a simple answer that I hoped would end the conversation quickly: “Yes, close friends of ours lost their child.” But Tain would interject pointedly: “Mama, he wasn’t just a friend. He was my godbrother.” He held and still holds his grief strong, but lightly, as though he were holding his friend’s little hand.

One night, not long after the tragedy, I was putting Tain to bed and I asked how he was doing, how he was feeling about Ben. I wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to ask or what he would say. But he looked at me, his brown eyes wide with wonder.

“Mama, I just have the feeling I’m going to see Ben again. He’s going to come down from heaven and he’s going to be here with all of us.”

In our church we recite the Nicene Creed, which says, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” I’ve read “Surprised by Hope” by the theologian N.T. Wright, who describes how branches of the Christian faith have downplayed the concept of bodily resurrection. The idea of leaving earth for a better place gained traction and the idea of God’s kingdom being right here, right now, faded. I believe in the bodily resurrection. Tain’s words that night told me he does, too, but he knows it without having read N.T. Wright. He knows it in a deeper way than I can ever comprehend.

“Yes,” I told him. “I think you’re right.”

Tain’s words gave me hope and I realized this is what faith does. It provides buoyancy, allowing you to rise to the surface. I’m grateful Tain has these feelings. I’m grateful for the voluminous tears we’ve all cried. I’m enormously grateful that I had not been in a mind so thick and clouded with grief that I couldn’t see or hear Tain’s needs. Instead, my heart found its muscle memory and acted from a familiar place. It whispered a reminder to take his hand and walk through the darkness with him.

— Sophfronia Scott co-authored with her son Tain Gregory the book “This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World,” published by Paraclete Press. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.

Tiny Wisconsin church moves services toward sunset seeking new dawn for congregation

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:36pm

The Rev. Dave Mowers presides over the 3:30 p.m. Sunday service at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Portage, Wisconsin. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Portage, Wisconsin] Streets were mostly deserted, errands temporarily shelved on this gray day. Sunday afternoons in December are reserved for the Packers in most parts of Wisconsin, and no exception is made for this small, Rust Belt city with its downtown sandwiched between the Wisconsin River and the railroad tracks.

On TVs beaming inside warm homes and bars around Portage, the beleaguered Green Bay team was snagging an overtime win from an even-worse Cleveland team. Outside St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, a man in a clergy collar parked at the curb and hustled in through the church’s side door, his thoughts not on football but on the worship service that was about a half hour from starting.

For the Rev. Dave Mowers, the Second Sunday of Advent at St. John the Baptist was also the sixth Sunday of an experiment in afternoon worship, the most dramatic component of Mowers’ survival plan for this 164-year-old congregation.

“We were all clear, I think, that even the changes we were making might not keep us open for years and years,” Mowers told Episcopal News Service. “But I think the new thing about this congregation is they were willing to give it a go.”

Congregations across the Episcopal Church are touting Sunday afternoon and evening services as more convenient, intimate and relaxed. Sunday morning still dominates schedules, but later-day services in places like Baltimore, Maryland; Houston, Texas, and Folsom, California, are broadening the range of options for busy Episcopalians.

Often, those afternoon and evening services are celebrated in addition to the congregations’ morning services, catering to different groups of worshipers. Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, as one example, added a 5 p.m. Sunday service several years ago to accommodate University of Virginia students and faculty members. And in Seattle, the Compline service on Sunday evenings at St. Mark’s Cathedral dates to 1956 and now draws up to 300 people.

But for Episcopalians in Portage, there is only one service at St. John the Baptist. By the time Mowers was named vicar of this mission parish in March, average attendance at that 11 a.m. Sunday service had dwindled to about a dozen people – sometimes even fewer.

The congregation, rather than expanding its options, was looking for a lifeline, so starting Nov. 5, the service was moved to 3:30 p.m. Mowers roped off all but the front three rows of pews to encourage people to sit closer together. The altar sits high and back from the pews, so Mowers also moved the liturgy forward by setting up a table between the lectern and the pulpit for the Eucharist.

Those and other changes form what Mowers calls the congregation’s “reboot.” For the inaugural afternoon service, attendance reached 22 people, not blockbuster turnout by most standards but a strong showing given the previous trend at St. John the Baptist.

“At this point, anything that looks like momentum is a good thing,” Mowers said.

Dorothy Rebholz and Jim Hibbard rehearse before the service. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Whatever the numbers, the congregation still shows unmistakable signs of life. Entering the sacristy on Sunday afternoon, Mowers was greeted by the sound of organ music and singing courtesy of Dorothy Rebholz and Jim Hibbard, who were rehearsing before the service.

Hibbard, the hymn leader, started attending services here about 20 years ago. “I love this place,” he said, adding that he and his wife, Barb Hibbard, first met at the church.

Rebholz is a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Portage and plays the organ there. She had spent two decades as the regular organist at St. John the Baptist, too, but on this afternoon, she was filling in as a substitute. When the services moved to the afternoon, she chose to end her tenure at the Episcopal church, though she is supportive of Mowers’ efforts.

“Father Dave came here very enthused and energetic and young, so I’m hoping he’ll be successful,” she said.

The congregation at St. John the Baptist is proud of its stained-glass windows, apart from which the small church is mostly unadorned. Light fills the space with a muted glow as it bounces off the white walls above the dark wood wainscoting, austere pews and red carpet – a glow that seems to only intensify as night falls.

Walter Gjavenis serves as crucifer as he and the Rev. Dave Mowers process into St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church at the start of the Sunday service. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

As Rebholz and Hibbard finished rehearsing, the service’s crucifer, Walter Gjavenis, lit candles in front of the alter as Mowers made sure there were enough bulletins for … a dozen people? Twenty? Fifty? How many would attend today?

The pews recently had proven they still were capable of supporting dozens. Dee Hoel estimated about 50 people turned out on Oct. 28 for the funeral of her son, who died of cancer at age 47. That was a bittersweet surprise.

“Being in the correctional system, I didn’t know who would come,” she said.

Her son, Jeffrey Hoel, was an inmate serving a life sentence for murder after being convicted in 1988 of killing a gas station employee during a robbery. He was 18 at the time of the robbery, which Dee Hoel described as “drug influenced.”

It has been years since the regular Sunday service drew that many people, and Hoel, who has been a member for 20 years and serves as vicar’s warden, initially was skeptical about the move to afternoons. It also took her a while to see the benefits of reducing the worship space roughly by half.

“I didn’t like it at first – I thought it was really awkward – but now I do,” she said, adding she especially appreciates how gathering close affects the hymns and prayers. “We sound better.”

Path set for ‘reaching new people for Jesus’

Congregation members who spoke with ENS suggested the change in service time had generated mixed reactions so far, and competition with Packers games doesn’t help. At least two regular churchgoers have been noticeably absent this NFL season but would be expected to surface in the pews again come January (or later, if the Packers find a way to make the playoffs).

Mowers, though, is counting on more than the worship schedule to rejuvenate St. John the Baptist. Even more important are his efforts to reverse years of erosion in clerical consistency.

“I think for this congregation, it’s been five years since they’ve had a dedicated, permanent priest who was really committed to being there more often than not,” he said.

The Second Sunday of Advent was the sixth Sunday in an experiment with afternoon services at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Mowers lives about 20 minutes away in the slightly larger city of Baraboo and splits his time between Portage and Baraboo, where he also is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church. The Diocese of Milwaukee worked out this partnership between the two churches about three years ago, but at that time a rotation of supply priests still presided over many of the services at St. John the Baptist.

When Mowers, after finishing his curacy in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region, was hired this year to lead the two churches, he said he didn’t want to be the priest hired to help St. John the Baptist shut down gracefully. He wanted to seek a path of growth and now commits to leading at least three Sunday services a month in Portage. On the fourth Sunday, a single supply priest fills in each month, adding further stability.

Trinity in Baraboo has an average Sunday attendance topping 60, and its vestry has been supportive of the partnership, as has Milwaukee Bishop Steven Miller, who sees ministry opportunities in Portage.

“We want to keep being in that community, because the need is so great,” Miller said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of people in Portage that need to know Jesus and need ministry.”

Portage, the county seat, is home to about 10,000 people, more than 90 percent of them white. Median household income is $44,000 year, and an estimated 16.6 percent of people live in poverty, compared to 12.7 percent statewide, according to 2016 census data.

Beyond the statistics, the needs of the community are evident in the ministries already underway at St. John the Baptist. An Alcoholics Anonymous group meets regularly in the church’s parish hall. Free meals are served there once a month through a partnership with other churches in the city, and about 60 people typically come. The church also recently began leasing basement space to a social service agency.

Miller also thinks the church is ideally located, next to the police station in the heart of the city’s downtown. And he thinks Mowers’ creativity and energy are well suited to the task. He sees a broader mission for the Episcopal Church than propping the door open for aging congregations.

“I think we’re at a time where there’s going to be new opportunities and new and creative ways for lay leadership and providing clergy support across the church,” he said. “The key is that It needs to be reaching new people for Jesus.”

Examples incorporating nontraditional service times abound across the Episcopal Church. The Church on the Square is an Episcopal-Lutheran partnership formed several years ago in Baltimore to reach out to its surrounding neighborhoods. Services are held Saturday afternoons and take a contemporary approach, mixing popular music and a message of community engagement.

Other churches have added contemplative evening services to their worship schedules. Trinity Episcopal Church in Folsom, California, offers three Sunday morning services, then ends its day with a short candlelight service at 7 p.m. The liturgy’s structure is similar to Evening Prayer and includes Eucharist – but with 10 minutes of meditation instead of a sermon.

In Houston, Christ Church Cathedral follows a similar Sunday schedule, with a 5 p.m. Celtic-influenced Eucharist called “The Well.” The service features “the presence of many candles” and music played on the harp and cello.

“The Well provides a prayerful and peaceful way to center oneself in God at the end of the day and the outset of a new week,” Dean Barkley Thompson says on the cathedral’s website.

The Rev. Dave Mowers has been vicar at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Portage, Wisconsin, since March, when he also took over as rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Baraboo. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The services at St. John the Baptist in Portage, on the other hand, remain traditional. The only candlelight is what you would expect on the altar for Eucharist. The musical instruments are limited to pipe organ or keyboard. The sermon Mowers delivers is roughly the same that he delivered hours earlier in Baraboo.

It’s a service that could happen in any church, except for little details like the Eucharist, which was pieces of bread that Mowers broke off a small loaf. As the congregation stepped up to receive it, Mowers greeted each person by name.

That personal touch is one of St. John the Baptist’s strengths, but it is made possible partly by the decline Mowers is trying to reverse. This Sunday’s attendance didn’t quite reach a dozen – priest, crucifer, organist, hymn reader, reporter and six other worshipers. After the service, in the register under “number present,” Mowers wrote “11.”

Committed to a church and a community

Mowers acknowledges there is a cost to keeping aging church facilities open, and a tiny congregation is in no position to meet that cost. But history suggests St. John the Baptist isn’t a hopeless cause.

A dynamic previous rector oversaw a period of growth in the 1990s that increased Sunday attendance to about 80, Mowers said. That rector was a retired Madison police chief, able to devote more time to the church than his part-time salary required, and church members today still remember him fondly. But what followed was a series of clergy mismatches, internal conflict and financial pressure that eroded the congregation’s gains, Mowers said.

Today, the brightest sign of hope may be found not in the church but in the parish hall after services. The congregation gathers afterward for a light meal every first Sunday of the month and for coffee every other Sunday. Of the 11 people at the Dec. 10 service, all but two stayed for coffee and fellowship.

From left, Dorothy Rebholz, Jackie Martin and Tony Bortz gather in the parish hall after the 3:30 p.m. Sunday service at St. John the Baptist. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

“Everybody’s been ridiculously welcoming,” Jackie Martin said, to the amusement of the group seated at a table in the parish hall. She had just attended her second service at St. John the Baptist, and she plans to return.

Martin, 36, grew up in Portage and moved back to the city a year ago after living in Milwaukee. The afternoon service works well for her, but what impressed her was the people.

“From Day 1 walking in here, everyone has personally greeted me,” she said.

Martin found the church through its website, but that is an exception. Most people find churches through connections with members, Mowers said, and his outreach so far has been limited to people he meets in Portage. A family with small children is among the recent visitors he hopes will become regular members, drawn by the addition of volunteer child care.

The church also has the unbreakable loyalty of longtime members like Tony Bortz, 81. His late wife was confirmed at St. John the Baptist, and he started attending services with her around 1960.

“I can’t leave this place, because she’s here,” he said.

Walter Gjavenis, 82, was 16 when his foster mother first took him to the 7 a.m. service at St. John the Baptist. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Gjavenis, the crucifer, is 82 and has been attending St. John the Baptist since he was 16. At that time, he lived on a farm outside of town with his foster parents. When his foster mother first brought him to church, it was a 7 a.m. service.

He’s still adjusting to the afternoon service, and he said his wife isn’t too fond of the change: “I said, you got to give it a try.”

He thinks attendance will increase in the spring. The sun now sets before the end of the services, and some of the older members prefer not to drive home in the dark.

Portage is rich in history, Mowers said, but today it is a city that “doesn’t love itself well.” Its downtown is in decline. Its blue-collar residents often struggle with financial and personal challenges. “It’s a town that’s glory days might have been 125 years ago or more.”

Much like St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, perhaps. But every Sunday afternoon is proof that the Episcopal Church hasn’t given up on Portage.

“This is the sort of place that Jesus would be doing ministry in,” Mowers said, “and the sort of people Jesus would be doing ministry with and for.”

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

Laos Church women commit to combat violence against women and gender inequality

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 9:33am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Women from Christian churches in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have committed themselves strengthen ecumenical women’s networks in the country and to work with local community organizations in a bid to combat gender-based violence. The commitment came in the closing session of a two-day workshop organised by the Christian Conference of Asia, a regional ecumenical body, and the Lao Evangelical Church. The 60 women from different churches and areas of Laos heard about the impact of immediate and long-term consequences of increasing violence against women and gender inequality.

Read the entire article here.

Archbishop of Canterbury: The Church of England ‘is very confident in its faith’

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 9:30am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The entire episode of the Dec. 14 Today Programme on BBC Radio Four, Britain’s flagship national radio news breakfast program, was broadcast live from Lambeth Palace, the London home and office of archbishops of Canterbury for nearly 800 years. And Archbishop Justin Welby used an interview in the key 8:10 a.m. slot, usually reserved for the key political interview of the day, to say that the Church of England “is very confident in its faith.”

Read the entire article here.

As fires rage, Episcopalians help neighbors with the basics by expanding ministries

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 5:22pm

The Thomas Fire decimated parts of the neighborhood around St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Ventura. Photo: Melissa McCarthy

[Episcopal News Service] As wildfires rampage through Southern California for a second week, Episcopalians are finding basic but also innovative ways to help their neighbors.

In many cases, they are doing so by way of ministries they have always done. For instance, Episcopalians in Ojai and Ventura, two hard-hit communities, have ongoing Laundry Love ministries. Laundry Love brings together congregations and homeless guests in laundromats where anyone who needs some help getting their laundry done and having something to eat. Now with ash and smoke permeating everything, the need is even greater.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ojai and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Ventura help run Laundry Love ministries in their towns. They, along with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Santa Paula, also have other ministries to homeless and undocumented people, the populations of most concern to the diocese in the midst of the fires.

The Rev. Michael Bamberger, a member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners in Response team and the diocesan disaster coordinator for Los Angeles, said understanding that the Laundry Love ministries need to get back in business soon was a good example of using as assets-based community development approach to discerning a congregation’s potential ministries.

On Dec. 12, Bamberger was preparing to travel to the burning areas with Bishop John Taylor and the Rev. Melissa McCarthy, the canon to the ordinary, to deliver money from an Episcopal Relief & Development grant and a diocesan appeal to expand those ministries. The grant will also help with gift cards and spiritual care for homeless and undocumented people.

For those existing ministries, “all it took was a little bit of money to amp up their programs,” he said. “It’s an existing program that meets a great need, but with this disaster, it’s even more important.”

Los Angeles Bishop John H. Taylor, second from left, and the Rev. Michael Bamberger, a member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners in Response team and Los Angeles disaster coordinator, farf left, meet Dec. 12 with Laundry Love folks in Ventura. Photo: Melissa McCarthy

The fires, the first of which began the evening of Dec. 4, have now burned more than 263,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Close to half of that acreage is being burned by the first fire, the so-called Thomas Fire that burned down the hills from between Ojai and Santa Paula into the city of Ventura.

The Thomas Fire has burned northwest into Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, and it is only 25 percent contained. It grew by 1,500 acres overnight Dec. 12 into Dec. 13, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times reported Dec. 13 that firefighters think they have finally turned a corner on the Thomas Fire in Ventura County. The Rev. Anthony Guillen, the Episcopal Church’s missioner for Latino/Hispanic ministries, who lives in Ventura with his wife, Guadalupe Moriel-Guillen, was forced to flee the night of Dec. 4 when the fires started. On Dec. 10, they were allowed into their neighborhood for an hour to check on their house, which the flames spared. He recorded a video of the burned-out homes on the street over from theirs.

One of the other four major fires, the Rye, is listed as contained. However, contained does not mean the fire is extinguished, only that firefighters have established a perimeter and enclosed the fire within it. The center’s definitions of “contained,” “controlled” and “out” are here.

Containment on the Lilac 5, Rye, Skirball and Creek fire is at 90 percent or more. Nearly 9,000 firefighters and support personnel are fighting the blazes, the center said. The Los Angeles Times has maps showing the area’s major fires and the evacuation zones.

Air quality is a major issue “not only in the immediate area but all up and down the central coast area,” Bamberger said. “There’s ashes coming down as far north as San Luis Obispo and down into Ventura and Thousand Oaks and that area,” he added, describing a range of about 150 miles. People are being advised to stay inside.

Still looking for an N-95 mask? Free masks are available at several sites on Wednesday, Dec. 13. Visit https://t.co/bjEUdUoCpk to find the distribution site nearest you. The list includes the times to get one. #thomasfire pic.twitter.com/mhk4YP8X7X

— Santa Barbara County (@countyofsb) December 13, 2017

Unable to have Mass as St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ojai on Dec. 11 because of air quality concerns, the Rev. Greg Kimura celebrated Holy Eucharist via Facebook Live. He included announcements about the Thomas Fire’s status (beginning at the 3:58 mark). “I am very wary of spreading rumors or ginning up undue fear and concerns,” he said, explaining that he was passing on only verified information from governmental sites. He cautioned viewers that some fires they might be seeing around Ojai were backfires lit to prevent the main blaze from burning into Ojai proper.

Discussing surrounding fires and the spread of the Thomas Fire and its accompanying expanded evacuations, Kimura said: “I want to remind folks that we are not out of the woods yet and that there are other communities that are at risk … that are going to go through exactly what we are going through right now.”

St. Andrew’s often livestreams its Sunday Eucharist, but this time, Kimura, the rector, streamed the service from a hotel room. The Eucharist has had 393 views, both live and on-demand, and 42 people responded with comments.

Kimura said that, despite occasional appearance of blue sky, air quality is still classified unhealthy. “Larger smoke particles and smoke will make air quality look worse,” according to a tweet on the Santa Barbara County Twitter feed, but it does not have the same health impacts as fine particulate. Tiny particulate can pass through breathing masks, Kimura warned.

#ThomasFire – The large particles in the air are concerning, but it is the fine particles you cannot see that greatly affect your health. Wear masks when the air quality is unhealthy. https://t.co/ZUQA1Myzzl pic.twitter.com/6St87HM2Pk

— Santa Barbara County (@countyofsb) December 12, 2017

Bamberger said the evacuations and, especially, the air quality warnings are impacting the area’s vulnerable populations even more than residents with greater access to resources. “The affected areas are heavily agricultural and then, closer to the coast, most of the area is tourist-driven. When the tourist industry suffers, the undocumented people are the people who run the kitchens and clean the rooms, they’ll be out of work,” he said. “And many of them are reluctant to access government services.”

That’s because of fears and rumors that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will detain undocumented people who ask for help.

Bamberger said there are no verified instances of ICE agents entering shelters. “We have a very vague letter from the ICE director saying that they’re not going out of their way to do anything more than their normal enforcement,” he said “But they’re not willing to commit to the fact that they’re not going to go into the shelters.

“We’ve not heard any stories of them going to the shelters but getting folks to commit to going to a shelter is hard enough and then if you add the issue of whether or not ICE might be present just makes it all the more complicated.”

Another population that worries Bamberger is people in addiction recovery who depend on churches of all denominations for the 12-Step meetings they host. With churches included in mandatory evacuation zones and people being warned to stay inside because of the bad air, he wonders how those folks are coping. “Sometimes we don’t think about who the vulnerable communities are,” he said.

All of the Episcopal churches in the paths of the fires are safe, albeit plagued by the smoke and ash effecting everyone. All Saints Episcopal Church in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, is in a voluntary evacuation zone and has cancelled all activities because of that and the air quality. “Our highest concern is the well-being of our parishioners and the safety of everyone in our community,” the Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett wrote on Facebook on Dec. 12. “We can each assist in ensuring public health and safety by cooperating with our public officials’ instructions.”

The All Saints rector advised parishioners to wear a N-95 mask for any “brief outdoor excursions.” She also reported that clergy outside of the fire zones were organizing their parishioners who were willing to take in evacuees.

Meanwhile, Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara has opened its parish hall to homeless people.

The Rev. Adam McCoy, prior of the Mount Calvary Monastery above Santa Barbara, reported Dec. 11 on Facebook that the evacuation zones around the city had nearly reached them. The monks of the Camaldolese Monastery of the Risen Christ in Los Osos, a little less than a two-hour drive away, are ready to take in the Order of the Holy Cross brothers if need be.

The brothers have lived through wildfires. In November 2009, a fire driven by 70-mph winds destroyed their 41-year-old Spanish-style monastery, which had hosted international conferences and retreat guests. Damages were in the millions.

“We remain on alert and are ready to go if we need to,” McCoy wrote. “Please pray for all who are impacted by the fire, particularly those who have lost their homes and livelihood.”

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

Fijian bishop chooses corrugated tin roof shelter over cathedral for consecration

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:13pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A new suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Polynesia has been consecrated under a makeshift shelter on the island of Vanua Levu, rather than the cathedral in Suva, on Fiji’s other main island, Viti Levu. Bishop Henry Bull, the new suffragan bishop of Vanua Levu and Taveuni, was consecrated on Sunday under a large corrugated tin roof, held up by scaffolding, in the playground of Saint Mary’s Primary School in Labasa, because the journey to Holy Trinity Cathedral in Suva would have been too difficult for his supporters.

Read the entire article here.

ExxonMobil concede defeat in climate change battle with Church of England

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:10pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The global oil giant ExxonMobil has caved in to shareholder demands – led by the Church of England’s church commissioners – to establish how the business will be affected by efforts to halt climate change. The announcement came two years to the day after the breakthrough Paris agreement on climate change. To mark the anniversary, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, brought together the president of the World Bank, the secretary general of the United Nations, international leaders and “committed citizens from around the world” to review its implementation and discuss new ways to “address the ecological emergency for our planet.”

Read the entire article here.

Historic Episcopal men and boys choir keeps welcoming tradition alive while performing near and far

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:06pm

Music director Claudia Dumschat plays the piano and conducts after-school rehearsal for several boys from the Choir of Men and Boys at Church of the Transfiguration in New York. The professional choir is one of the oldest of its kind in the Episcopal Church. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] Begun in a private home in 1848, five streets south of its current Manhattan location, the Church of the Transfiguration has welcomed all sorts of people to warm up inside its hallowed, historic doors.

It’s lovingly called “The Little Church Around the Corner” because when the church arranged a funeral for an actor in 1870, judgmental people would whisper that there was a little church around the corner where “they do that sort of thing.” Actors were considered immoral and disreputable. Church legend says that Joseph Jefferson, the actor’s friend who arranged the funeral, replied, “God bless the little church around the corner!”

And that sentiment stuck. The church’s mission to welcome all visitors regardless of such things as profession, race, nationality, reputation or status was established from the start. Christmastime can be a reminder to follow the example of inclusiveness and generosity to unexpected visitors, from wealthy foreign kings to desperate young parents.

Enter the church’s Choir of Men and Boys, circa 2017. On Dec. 15, the group will perform a fully staged and costumed production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” with a full orchestra. The Italian composer created the Christmas opera specifically for children.

Luciano Pantano, 11, plays the starring role of Amahl, a disabled boy who lives with his mother in poverty near Bethlehem in the first century, shortly after Jesus’ birth. The three kings knock on their door in the middle of night asking for a place to rest. Then, tales are swapped, neighbors gathered, gold stolen, generosity shown and miracles revealed.

Jodi Karen plays the mother, and Luciano Pantano plays Amahl in the Church of the Transfiguration’s staging of Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Photo: Church of the Transfiguration

Pantano is excited to sing Amahl’s part, but he also loves being one among many in the choir team, which includes about a dozen boys and 10 men. He commutes about an hour from Brooklyn to rehearse with the other boys twice a week after school, sing every Sunday, and do special performances.

“It kind of opens up a new part of my life,” Pantano told Episcopal News Service after an early December rehearsal. “I have a lot of new friends from many new, different places. I get to talk and socialize.”

Several of the Church of the Transfiguration’s choirs will form the Choir of Shepherds for Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” which will be performed Dec. 15 at the New York City church. Bottom row, left to right: Ben Thomas as King Kaspar, Charles Brown as King Balthazar, Jake Ingbar as King Melcior and Luciano Pantano as Amahl; top row, left to right: Jodi Karem as the mother and Alexis Cordero as the page. Photo: Church of the Transfiguration

Built-in, unstructured playtime is part of the choir rehearsal program shaped by Claudia Dumschat, the church’s music director since 1999 and the first woman to hold the position since the choir began more than 165 years ago.

She divides rehearsals into small groups to fit the students’ varied schedules. Sunday’s choir mass and other performances are when the men and all the boys unite their voices to create one layered, powerful sound.

“There’s a naturalness children have when they connect to this music. They don’t over-interpret it,” Dumschat said. “It’s how it was meant to be. It’s thrilling. I used to work with adult [only] choirs, and this has really changed the way I interpret the music.”

The church founder, the Rev. George Hendric Houghton, started the Choir of Men and Boys soon after the church formed. With a birthday in the mid-1800s, it’s considered one of the oldest men and boys choirs in the United States.

In recent years, the church established the Girls Choir, the Cherub Choir for small children, and the Lumines Girls Choir for teenage girls.

Both the boys and girls choirs were invited for residency in the summer of 2018 at the historic St. Albans Cathedral in England, where they will sing in daily evensongs and a Sunday mass. They’ll also tour historic sites in nearby London, enhancing their education musically and spiritually. Sponsorships are available.

Emily White, mother to choir member Kalmen “Bugs” Kelley, 11, of Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, said her son is eager to attend his choir rehearsals.

“He always swears he doesn’t like classical music, but he loves this,” White said with a laugh. “He sometimes asks me to go over the words and music at home. He responds to the music. This is one of the things where he becomes himself.”

Choir isn’t a particularly “cool” extracurricular activity, especially for boys, the director, the rector and parents say. But when these children leave their outside life and enter into the safety of their choir family, they say they feel free to enjoy it regardless.

“The music we sing is like a blast from the past, and you really don’t hear this much. I mostly just listen to R&B, rap and pop,” said Ambar Rosario, 16, also of Washington Heights. She likes the unified nature of choir singing. “It’s a way we can perform as a group, not just solo, and there’s a togetherness. To set myself free in this way is amazing.”

Three teenagers in the Lumines Girls Choir, Ambar Rosario, 16; Tessoro Estrella, 15; and Leeza Pantano, 13, rehearse at the Church of the Transfiguration with music director Claudia Dumschat. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

The ethereal emotion that beautiful music can evoke has long been rooted in Anglican Church tradition, said the rector, the Rev. John David van Dooren.

“The music isn’t just beautiful. It shapes us as Christians,” van Dooren said as he sat with ENS before rehearsal.

He looked at Dumschat. “Claudia, she’s created this community and love. Keeping a bunch of boys disciplined is amazing, and she turns them on to a world they’ve never known, musically and spiritually.”

It’s also a professional choir because the boys are paid. True, it’s a paltry sum, but they’re responsible for showing up and doing their part with consistency. Jesse Obremski, now 23, joined the church as a 6-year-old and began singing in the Choir of Men and Boys. Then, he graduated from the famed performing arts conservatory The Juilliard School, and today he’s a professional dancer in the Limon Dance Company in Manhattan. He’s choreographing the Menotti’s Christmas opera and mentors the young boys.

Jesse Obremski, now 23, joined the Church of the Transfiguration as a 6-year-old and started singing in the Choir of Men and Boys. In the poster, he’s the boy on the far left, second row from the bottom. Obremski’s work with the choir and music director, Claudia Dumschat, played a pivotal role in his acceptance into The Juilliard School for dance and singing. Today, he’s a professional dancer who choreographed the choir’s Christmas opera. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

“She’s taught me about how to approach singing and how to be in it,” Obremski said of Dumschat. “It’s the same with any art form. It’s also about the friendships, the emotional quality, attention to detail and working together.

“Those qualities will hopefully help them when they get older.”

Rounding up and inviting outsiders has always been the way of the Church of the Transfiguration.

Houghton, the first rector, sheltered escaped slaves during the draft riots of the Civil War and maintained a bread line for the unemployed.

The male-only nature of the choir stems from its European monastery roots.

“Eleventh-century monasteries had four-part choirs. The boys sang soprano and the men alto, tenor and bass,” Dumschat said. “It’s the basis of sacred music in Europe.”

Because it wasn’t custom for choirs to include women and girls at the time, composers the likes of Bach, Bernstein, Haydn and Mozart originally meant their music to blend with male voices, young and old.

Sascha Haerter, Devin Coleman and Donovan Coleman are part of the Choir of Shepherds in “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Photo: Church of the Transfiguration

After rehearsal, Alexander Darling, 9, sprawled on the worn, cushy couch in the playroom that features a ping-pong table, video games, plush toys and books. “It’s pretty great,” said Darling, who lives in Harlem. “It’s a little bit like being free ’cause…”

He couldn’t articulate why the choir made him feel free, besides singing in other languages and his love of practicing the songs.

But Darling did have a clear message he wanted to tell other kids: “Believe in yourself, whatever you want to do, and never give up.”

— 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.

Planeación anticipada: abre la convocatoria para las diócesis que estén interesadas en servir de anfitriona del evento EYE 2020 

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:03pm

El concurrido y popular Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) busca una diócesis que sirva de anfitriona para el evento en el 2020.

La oficina de los Ministerios de la Juventud de la Iglesia Episcopal abrió la convocatoria para las diócesis que estén interesadas en acoger EYE20. Debido a una variedad de factores, EYE20 está tentativamente programada para la semana del 6 de julio, o la semana del 13 de julio de 2020.

El evento de EYE se celebra cada tres años de acuerdo con la resolución de la Convención General #1982-D079 y está centrado en los jóvenes que cursan desde el 9.º hasta el 12.º grado durante el año lectivo y en sus líderes adultos. El más reciente evento, EYE17, que se realizó en la Ciudad de Oklahoma (Diócesis de Oklahoma), marcó el 13.º aniversario de EYE y dio la bienvenida a más de 1.400 participantes entre los líderes de jóvenes, los presentadores, los voluntarios y demás personal.

“Si bien es cierto que EYE20 es uno de los eventos más amplios de la Iglesia Episcopal su planeación e implementación son primordialmente manejados por el personal del Obispo Presidente y los integrantes de los equipos de planeación. La diócesis que sirve de anfitriona juega un papel muy importante en el éxito del evento” explicó Wendy Johnson, la coordinadora de EYE20. La diócesis anfitriona sirve de enlace entre el personal del evento, el equipo de planeación y la diócesis anfitriona”.

Además, la diócesis anfitriona generalmente provee el siguiente apoyo:
• Discernimiento sobre la disponibilidad de un campus universitario o de una institución educacional superior que pueda proveer alojamiento para 1.500 personas en sus dormitorios universitarios y que cuente con espacios grandes para reuniones y que se encuentre localizada a 30 minutos, o menos, de un aeropuerto importante en los Estados Unidos.
• Apoya en la preparación y ejecución del evento
• Sirve de guía de la comunidad local
• Recluta un número importante de voluntarios locales para servir de apoyo en el lugar del evento, para integrar equipos de bienvenida en el aeropuerto y de   despedida
• Proporciona apoyo logístico y económico para un día de peregrinaje local

Los detalles, los requisitos e información adicional está disponible aquí.  La fecha límite para solicitar para ser anfitrión de EYE20 es el viernes 19 de enero de 2018.

Para más información, comuníquese con Johnson en wjohnson@episcopalchurch.org o al 347-880-6512.

Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales (EJE19)
Gracias a un subsidio del Fondo Constable de la Iglesia Episcopal la Oficina de Formación actualmente trabaja con los obispos y los representantes de cada una de las siete diócesis de la IX Provincia para planear un evento en español para la Juventud y Jóvenes Adultos de la IX Provincia en el 2019 Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales (EJE19).Siga los pasos de la planeación aquí.

Para más información, comuníquese con Johnson en wjohnson@episcopalchurch.org o al 347-880-6512.

Mensaje de Navidad 2017 del Obispo Presidente Curry

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 3:06pm

“Que tengan una bendita Navidad, un maravilloso Año Nuevo y salgan y hagan música en el corazón del mundo”, dijo el Obispo Presidente y Primado de la Iglesia Episcopal, Michael Curry, en su Mensaje de Navidad 2017.

El video del mensaje del Obispo Presidente está aquí.

Sigue el texto del mensaje del Obispo Presidente:

  Obispo Presidente Michael Curry
Mensaje de Navidad 2017

En la Segunda carta a los corintios, el apóstol Pablo dice:

Si alguien está en Cristo, es una nueva creación. Lo viejo ha pasado, he aquí que ha llegado lo nuevo.

En un lugar de ese pasaje, san Pablo dice: “Dios estaba en Cristo, reconciliando el mundo consigo mismo”, y también dice en otra parte del mismo pasaje, “y se nos ha dado el ministerio de la reconciliación”.

¿Alguna vez han ido al cine o leído una historia o una novela, y la novela comienza por el final, así que ya saben dónde termina la historia, pero luego el resto de la historia o de la novela es en realidad la historia detrás de la historia? Sabemos sobre la Navidad. Sabemos sobre María. Sabemos sobre José. Sabemos sobre los ángeles que cantan Gloria en excelsis Deo. Sabemos, desde nuestra infancia, acerca de los animales en el establo. Sabemos de los magos que vienen de lejos, y llegan alrededor de Epifanía, llevando regalos de oro, incienso y mirra. Sabemos de los ángeles que cantan en los cielos y de la estrella que aparece sobre ellos. Esa es la historia.

Pero la historia detrás de la historia es de lo que san Pablo habla. Dios estaba en Cristo reconciliando el mundo consigo mismo, y Jesús nos ha dado ahora ese mismo ministerio de reconciliación. Dios estaba reconciliando el mundo consigo mismo al convertirse en uno de nosotros. Lo divino se hizo humano. Dios entró en la historia. La eternidad se convirtió en parte del tiempo. Dios estaba reconciliando el mundo consigo mismo al vivirlo él mismo. En Jesús, Dios vino a nosotros para mostrarnos el camino, para reconciliarnos con el Dios que nos creó a todos y a todo lo que existe. Y Dios también ha venido en la persona de Jesús, para mostrarnos cómo reconciliarnos unos con otros, como hijos del único Dios que es el Creador de todos nosotros. Esa es la historia detrás de Navidad.

Dios nos muestra el Camino para que nos convirtamos en hijos de Dios, y como hijos de Dios, hermanos y hermanas mutuamente. Dios nos muestra en Jesús cómo llegar a ser la familia de Dios y cómo cambiar, construir y hacer un mundo donde todos formemos parte de esa familia. Donde los niños no vayan a la cama con hambre. Donde nadie tenga que estar solo. Donde la justicia sea real para todos y donde el amor sea la ley suprema.

Sepan que hay una historia detrás de la historia, y es una historia que vale la pena cantar, dar gracias y luego vivir.

Uno de mis escritores favoritos, el difunto Howard Thurman, compuso un poema hace muchos años sobre la Navidad, y lo dice probablemente mejor que yo:

       Cuando la canción de los ángeles se aquieta,
            Cuando la estrella en el cielo se ha ido,
Cuando los reyes y los príncipes están en casa,
Cuando los pastores regresan con sus rebaños,
Entonces comienza la tarea de Navidad:
De encontrar a los perdidos,
De sanar lo quebrado,
De alimentar a los hambrientos,
De liberar al prisionero,
De reconstruir las naciones,
De llevar paz a otros,
Y, ¡hay!, de hacer música en el corazón.

La historia detrás de la historia es que Dios amó tanto al mundo y, por lo tanto, te ama y, por lo tanto, me ama.

Que tengan una bendita Navidad, un maravilloso Año Nuevo y salgan a hagan música en el corazón del mundo.

El Reverendísimo Michael B. Curry
Obispo Presidente y Primado

Joining together in Latin America to combat modern slavery and human trafficking

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 12:03pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Alliance reports on a Latin-American workshop on human trafficking that it convened in Brasilia last week, in partnership with the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil – the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil – Caritas Internationalis and global anti-human trafficking network COATNET. This report is by the Anglican Alliance.

Read the entire article here.

Archbishop of Cape Town urges ruling party to be ‘architects of a flourishing South Africa’

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 11:59am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has urged members of South Africa’s ruling ANC party to “follow their consciences” when they elect a new leader next week. Members of the ANC will gather at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg from Dec. 16 to 20. One of their tasks will be to elect a new party leader in place of President Jacob Zuma, who has been mired in controversy and allegations of corruption.

Read the entire article here.

Bishops condemn abuse of police power in state attacks on universities in Brazil

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 11:55am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishops from the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil (IEAB) – the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil – have spoken out against state and police attacks on universities. In one case, the rector of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, professor Luiz Carlos Cancellier de Olivo, killed himself after he was arrested and barred from his university campus in what one senator told the National Congress was “a clear abuse of power.” The primate of the IEAB, Bishop Francisco de Assis da Silva of South Western Brazil, is the lead signatory on a statement calling for an end to what they call “a dangerous process of intimidation” by “the illegitimate government.”

Read the entire article here.

Asian ecumenical group describes ‘grave human rights violations’ in West Papua

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 11:52am

[Anglican Communion News Service] A pastoral solidarity team from the Christian Conference of Asia are reporting “grave human rights violations and repression against the indigenous West Papuans in their own homeland” after a visit to the Indonesian-controlled West Papua. The visit, carried out last week, was part of CCA’s pastoral accompaniment to churches and people who live in vulnerable situations in Asia.

Read the entire article here.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Christmas message

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 11:49am

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] “Have a blessed Christmas, a wonderful New Year, and go out and make music in the heart of the world,” Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael Curry said in his Christmas Message 2017.


The text of the presiding bishop’s message follows.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
Christmas Message 2017

In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says,

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new is come.

At a point in that passage, St. Paul says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself,” and he also says at another point in the same passage, “and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.”

Have you ever gone to the movies or read a story or a novel, and the novel starts with the end, so you know where the story ends, but then the rest of the story or the novel is actually the story behind the story. We know about Christmas. We know about Mary. We know about Joseph. We know about the angels singing Gloria in excelsis deo. We know from our childhood the animals in the stable. We know of the magi who come from afar, arriving around Epiphany, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We know of the angels singing in the heavens, and the star that shown above them. Therein is the story.

But the story behind the story is what St. Paul was talking about. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and Jesus has now given us that same ministry of reconciliation. God was reconciling the world to himself by becoming one of us. The divine became human. God entered history. Eternity became part of time. God was reconciling the world to himself by actually living it himself. In Jesus, God came among us to show us the way, to be reconciled with the God who has created us all and everything that is. And God has likewise come in the person of Jesus, to show us how to be reconciled with each other, as children of the one God who is the Creator of us all. That’s the story behind Christmas.

God is showing us the Way to become God’s children, and as God’s children, brothers and sisters of each other. God is showing us in Jesus how to become God’s family and how to change, and build, and make a world where everybody is a part of that family. Where children don’t go to bed hungry. Where no one has to be lonely. Where justice is real for all and where love is the ultimate law.

Know there is a story behind the story, and it’s a story worth singing about, and giving thanks for, and then living.

One of my favorite writers, the late Howard Thurman, composed a poem many years ago about Christmas, and he says it probably better than I:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
Then the work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace to others,
And alas, to make music in the heart.

The story behind the story is that God so loved the world, and so loves you, and so loves me.

Have a blessed Christmas, a wonderful New Year, and go out and make music in the heart of the world.

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Historic Philadelphia church takes new approach to serving the oppressed: healing trauma

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 2:46pm

The Rev. Renee McKenzie-Hayward takes an impromptu boxing lesson as volunteers prepare to start a youth boxing program to add to the athletic offerings in January at the Advocate Center for Culture and Education, a non-profit partner ministry of the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] As the lunch crowd dwindled, three men stood in a huddle and pulled out white boxing gloves. The Rev. Renee McKenzie-Hayward emerged from her office and greeted them.

Soon, the priest was gloved, taking practice jabs and right hooks — and laughing.

“Fighting for the life of this community, we want to maintain the African-American rich cultural history. The Advocate is central for that. It’s a hub for that,” McKenzie told Episcopal News Service the day before, as she sat in her office painted in African violet. “People can come here to organize, and I say you come here to get stronger and then go out to work.”

You have to be tough, yet warm and welcoming, to do McKenzie’s job at George W. South Memorial Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In that northern area, the church sits in the Cecil B. Moore neighborhood, named after the civil rights activist and local NAACP president. The neighborhood is predominately African-American and Puerto Rican residents who grew up here, but the ever-increasing influx of college students from nearby Temple University is changing the landscape. A Temple graduate herself who values what the burgeoning college population can offer the community, McKenzie has watched the gentrification change the fabric of the neighborhood. She’s also the university’s Episcopalian chaplain.

That’s only one battle of many. Since 2011, McKenzie has dug into the struggles of this church with a long-standing reputation of ardent inclusiveness and a mission to fight for the rights of anyone who’s oppressed. In May, McKenzie earned some recognition that will make these goals more possible.

The Episcopal Church Foundation awarded McKenzie one of five 2017 fellowships. Established in 1964, the Fellowship Partners program supports emerging scholars and ministry leaders who have a passion for forming the next generation of leaders in the Episcopal Church.

It was McKenzie’s proposed Healing Trauma project that earned the financial award of $15,000. She also won a Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal Grant for $43,005.

Since 2011, McKenzie has been the vicar of The Church of the Advocate, a historic congregation known for its efforts for social change, education and the arts in North Philadelphia. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

Donald Romanik, ECF president, said he appreciated how McKenzie’s trauma-informed ministry will be all about developing an understanding of congregational life through the lens of trauma.

“We knew Rev. Dr. Renee McKenzie-McKenzie would make an excellent ECF fellow for her important work on trauma-informed ministry, social justice and uplifting and growing leaders from African-American communities, both in her church and as a model for our church at large,” Romanik said.

Although she’s in the research and planning stage, McKenzie envisions a healing trauma center in which people first meet with a social worker to assess their needs. They might first participate in programs for basic survival, such as food and shelter. Then, they can join programs that fulfill higher needs, such as education, financial betterment, arts enrichment and cultural-political empowerment.

“How can we use the resources that the Advocate already has in place, how can we bring those all together under one umbrella so that we work in a common direction?” McKenzie asked. “People need physical, spiritual, mental and social healing. Asking how we bring that together, that’s basically how the Healing Project began.”

What is this kind of trauma?

In trauma-informed work, there’s individual trauma, such as a person’s experience and the lingering effects of rape, abuse and war.

“But in our community, it’s also about systemic trauma,” McKenzie said. “That’s where the white supremacy piece comes in. That’s where the justice piece comes in for us. Racial inequality. Poverty.”

For Barbara Easley-Cox, decent housing is where she wants to focus on systematic trauma healing. She’s fought for this cause as a Black Panther since the 1970s and was helped into housing herself across the street from the Advocate through the efforts of the Rev. Paul Washington, the church’s legendary priest who served from 1962 to 1987.

“It’s not only a black-white thing,” Easley-Cox said. “It’s all oppression of any color, shape and size. For me, I always want to bring things to a more worldly view. Yeah, the Holocaust was bad for Jews; slavery was bad for us. But what makes you think it’s over?”

These days, Easley-Cox volunteers at the church doing whatever is needed, from sorting clothing donations to cooking savory dishes for coffee hour.

“I come to service every Sunday because I like Rev. Renee’s sermons,” Easley-Cox said. “She gives you the gospel and translates it to modern day and political issues.”

In a November sermon, McKenzie addressed the #metoo movement against sexual harassment, sharing some of her own experiences. It’s yet another type of systematic trauma that needs healing.

“It’s not just women versus men,” McKenzie said. “It’s so many people who have a story of someone who had the capacity to overpower them because of their privilege.”

The Healing Trauma project would work in three phases: developing awareness; unpacking trauma; and rejuvenation and empowerment.

“You cannot address the problem until you can name the problem,” McKenzie said. “First, we want to help people to name it and then to understand it. And then to become resilient against it.”

The Advocate’s storied history

The Church of the Advocate is aptly named, fighting for the rights of all people, especially those systematically oppressed, since it was consecrated in 1897.

It’s a landmark in the religious, social and architectural history of the Unites States. Built as a memorial to civic leader and merchant George W. South, the sprawling complex includes a chapel, parish house, curacy and rectory designed in the French Gothic Revival style by renowned church architect Charles Burns.

Historically significant church, political and cultural events have occurred at North Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate, which is also built in a French Gothic architectural style, all of which lend to its status as a National Historical Landmark. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

The Advocate was selected as a National Historic Landmark in 1996 and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.

And it was built in this grand scale specifically for the working class. The founders ruled that no pews could be rented so everyone could afford a seat. In fact, they didn’t even use pews back then, and they don’t now. Lightly cushioned chairs line the nave.

The Rev. Paul Washington commissioned artists Walter Edmonds and Richard Watson to create 14 murals. Under each are written descriptions drawing parallels between the African-American and ancient Hebrew experience. There are no pews in the nave, a practice born from the church founders’ desire to abolish pew rentals and make attendance accessible to all people. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

The church has been key in the civil rights movement and the struggle for women’s rights. The Advocate hosted the National Conference of Black Power in 1968 and the Black Panther Conference in 1970. In 1974, 11 female deacons were ordained as priests at the Advocate. Those ordinations, the first in the Anglican Communion, pushed the then-ongoing debate about women in the priesthood to a new level and led, slightly more than two years later, to the General Convention explicitly allowing women to become priests and bishops.

The Advocate’s sanctuary has another bold, distinguishing feature: the murals.

From 1973 to 1976, artists Walter Edmonds and Richard Watson painted 14 stunning murals that depict the African American experience. Valerie Anderson, a volunteer docent, leads educational tours of the murals. It’s one of the programs McKenzie started three years ago to preserve the community’s culture and history.

Below each painting is a Bible verse and corresponding message, drawing on the parallels of Hebrews and African Americans. The paintings take the viewer from slavery and emancipation to civil rights and black power, Anderson said as she gave a tour.

Some murals convey the grief and loss with esoteric designs and swirls of blues. Others, which include a couple controversial images, depict the anger and rebellion of the oppressed in fiery reds and oranges.

In the nave of Church of the Advocate, Valerie Anderson, a volunteer docent, leads educational tours of the 14 murals depicting the African-American experience, history and culture. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

“I always try to bring it forward to where we are today. It really encourages dialogue,” Anderson said about her tours. She spoke about the danger of internalizing the oppressor, which is when you start to believe the hurtful words said about you, and your behavior changes to reflect that negative message.

“We’ve got to erase that tape,” Anderson said.

Advocate Café

Marvin C., 40, who asked not to use his full name, used to teach at an Episcopal nursery school before he fell into a lifestyle that led him down the wrong road and eventually left him homeless. Then he found the free weekday lunches at the Advocate Café, a church ministry for 34 years. One day, he stayed to watch a documentary. McKenzie noticed him.

“I saw the spark in him, you know?” she said. The vicar immediately persuaded Marvin to teach an adult literacy class and participate in the after-school program.

Now, three months later, Marvin has a catering job while he pursues preschool positions and attends support groups. He’s interviewing at the Advocate Center for Culture and Education to teach wellness classes like calisthenics. Marvin has a home. When he visits the café now, it’s to help others.

“It’s a great purpose to work with the young and old,” Marvin said. “I was really meant to teach. This is a platform, regardless of how I walked in here homeless and just to eat.”

When McKenzie arrived at the Advocate six years ago, the café served about 60 to 70 hot meals a day, five days a week. Now that daily crowd is at 100 to 120.

On this December day, Elsie Vives dove her fork into her salad, concentrating on the day’s lunch of spaghetti in meaty marinara, yam-pineapple casserole, green salad and a clementine.

“I like the way they do the food. They’ve got good food every time. In fact, I come here every day,” said Vives, who walks almost 2 ½ miles to reach the café.

Elsie Vives enjoys the hot meals, such as this butternut squash pasta with meaty marinara, sweet potato casserole and green salad, five days a week at the Advocate Cafe at Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia. The ministry feeds about 100 people a day. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

Like many church feeding programs, the café offers so much more than food. More than 5,400 social services requests were fulfilled in 2016. Those services include clothing donations; procuring IDs; referrals for jobs, housing and health care; resources such as computers, printers and phones; occasional musical entertainment and education workshops during the noon to 2 p.m. mealtime; and professional visits from Temple University nursing students and other experts.

Willie Mae Williams has been with the café, in one way or another, for nine years. “I used to come here to eat, and one day, I asked if I could help out, and I’ve been here ever since,” said Williams as she organized the clothing donations. “It keeps me busy. Why stay home and go crazy when I can come here and help out?”

Willie Mae Williams was a patron of the Advocate Cafe, and now she volunteers at the noon to 2 p.m. mealtime, helping sort clothing donations and other duties. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

During a recent lunchtime, Ta Abdullah held a Dunkin Donuts job application as he chatted with others hanging out at the café. He appreciates how staff and volunteers help patrons with their job hunt and offer use of a phone for work purposes.

“You’ve got people coming here from all walks of life,” Abdullah said. “It’s like a gathering. It’s a blessing to some people.”

Advocate Center for Culture and Education

The cultural program began about three years ago for youth in grades 3 to 12, after school and in the summer. It’s housed next door in a three-story former row home, where Adia Harmon, executive director, presides in the first-floor lobby as children pour in four days a week.

There’s a dizzying number of activities, and it’s growing. In 2016, the program served about 600 children.

“I am here solely out of passion,” said Harmon, a Philadelphia native who loves to witness the direct impact these programs have on a child’s life. “I can see it. The blessings come from when you serve people.”

The sports division started with age-grouped basketball teams, which play in the prized gym built in 2004. Marvin plans to lead calisthenics as part of a wellness program that includes drum circles and meditation, and in January, the boxing program will kick off.

“Research on testosterone points to kids who showed less aggression in school and at home after a program like this, because they had an outlet to release that energy and frustration,” said Johnny Malin, an intern through the Servant Year program in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

This segment of the Philadelphia-based Mighty Writers program operates on the second floor of the Advocate Center for Culture and Education and is divided into a program for high schoolers and one for middle schoolers, or ages 7 to 17. Here, this younger group learns to think and write with clarity so they can achieve success at school, work and life. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

On the second floor, the Mighty Writers program was underway, taught by James Owk. Recent sessions have started with a chapter of the “Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It” audiobook by Charlamagne Tha God, followed by writing a paragraph each on three questions and then a discussion.

“I’m not really a people person, and I feel like this program puts me out there to make friends, and it’s something new every day,” said Tori-Ann Kent, a teen student. “It really opens you up to what’s going on in the world.”

On the third floor, teaching artist Scott Bickmore led a class of younger children in an acrylic painting project with an heirloom theme, tying together still-life paintings of salsa ingredients, based on a family recipe. The kids will eat homemade salsa at the project’s end.

“Here’s my tomato painting,” said Jasiya Smith, 10, as she held up her art. “I also did a lime, a garlic, cilantro.” She tasted cilantro for the first time and thought it was “OK.”

Jasiya Smith, 10, painted tomatoes as part of her after-school art class with teaching artist Scott Bickmore at the Advocate Center. Photo: Amy Sowder/Episcopal News Service

There’s homework help and tutoring, college preparation, a drama and dance program that uses the stage next door at the church, and gardening out back when the weather allows.

“I’m trying to get these guys to be more plant-based, trying to tie it in with our community garden,” Bickmore said about his art class.

Community Space

The church’s greatest asset and liability is the building, McKenzie said. The maintenance of such a majestic, historic building is a never-ending expense, but those same qualities also draw people inside. She wants room rentals to enable the building to pay for itself. From the outside, it seems like there are enough community activities to fulfill that goal already.

Easley-Cox, the church volunteer, neighbor and former Black Panther, has always enjoyed the church’s cultural festivals and political events. She reveled in the John Coltrane jazz festival, which was a recurring event for a while, and a Rainbow Coalition concert, as well as digging into Mamie’s fried chicken, made by the longtime church cook.

“The church is an umbrella that everybody stands under,” Easley-Cox said. “And it works.”

The Advocate has three resident arts groups: Kaleidoscope Theater hosts four drama performances a year, the August Wilson consortium puts on play readings and the Prometheus Chamber Orchestra performs four to six concerts a year.

Veronica Jurkiewicz is a violinist and co-founder of the 14-member orchestra, an Advocate resident since 2013. The orchestra has no conductor.

“Our model is based on democracy and individual responsibility,” Jurkiewicz said. “We really try to be a part of the social change movement. There’s really a long history of social justice and art and activism here, and we want to be a part of that.”

The orchestra plays at the John Coltrane festival, memorial services, weddings and at the Advocate Café when rehearsing for a performance. In 2016, they collaborated with an ensemble of Arabic musicians called Al-Bustan Takht. And in June, the musicians are excited to perform and premier a piece with Grammy-nominated choir The Crossing.

Divya Nair, a doctoral student in literature who’s working with McKenzie on the Healing Trauma project, first stepped into the church two years ago, to attend Saturday Free School, a philosophy reading group that organizes conferences and symposiums.

“My first time here, with the beautiful architecture and spirituality, I felt this real sense of deep peace,” Nair said. “It’s really exciting to see where this is going to go.”

Meanwhile, the community keeps coming inside. The doors are open.

Activist Gabriel Bryant organized an event, “Have Black Lives Ever Mattered?” on Dec. 8, comprising a series of panel discussions on mass incarceration, immigration and white supremacy.

“They’ve always been super-welcoming to our efforts to gather community,” Bryant said. “This has always been a safe space.”

Nair loves the rich musical legacy of the Paul Washington years, when he hosted musical giants of the 20th century such as jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp and Coltrane. The night before his last performance in Philadelphia, Coltrane played in the Advocate’s church courtyard.

“A lot of black artists played here because they had nowhere else to go. It’s a pivotal institution,” McKenzie said. “We can’t just let that history go away. We have to continue to fight.”

— 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

Kevin Brown ordained, consecrated Delaware bishop

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:59pm

Newly ordained and consecrated Diocese of Delaware Bishop Kevin Brown, left, listens to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Photo: Diocese of Delaware

[Episcopal Diocese of Delaware] It was a joyful day in Dover, Delaware, on Dec. 9, when the Rt. Rev. Kevin S. Brown was ordained and consecrated as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware.

Brown was elected on July 15, marking the culmination of a search that began in April 2016, after Bishop Wayne P. Wright announced his retirement.

Despite the snow, approximately 750 people attended and participated in the two-hour service, with the theme of “Come, Holy Spirit,” at Delaware State University’s Education and Humanities Theater.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry served as the chief consecrator, and Wright and West Tennessee Bishop Don E. Johnson acted as co-consecrators. The Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, bishop suffragan of North Carolina, and the Rt. Rev. Hector Monterroso, bishop assistant of Texas, acted as additional consecrators.

The Drum Circle of the Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew signaled the start of the three processionals with synchronized rhythm that immediately set a tone of high energy for the pageantry of the celebration. Accompanied by organ and a tympani and brass quintet, a 112-voice choir, comprising singers from churches across the diocese, swelled in song and heralded the processions of service participants; diocesan, ecumenical, and interfaith clergy; and visiting and co-consecrating bishops.

The Rev. Amanda K. Robertson, associate rector at Brown’s former parish in Charlotte, North Carolina, delivered the sermon, which drew appreciative laughter and murmurs of agreement. She also acknowledged her former boss as an admired colleague and true friend.

She went on to urge Brown, “Remember your authority. As bishop you will be entrusted with oversight that is intended to be rooted in relationship and respect. Even someone as committed as you are to serving alongside and not over, to uplifting others’ gifts and ministries, and giving credit where credit is due, even you must accept the imbalance of power and authority that will exist in most of your daily interactions. You will need confidantes and counselors who are able to speak as freely as you are.”

Echoing the theme, she said, “The Holy Spirit invoked in blessing and consecration is the power by which the raw material of our lives becomes holy. And so it is, that in just a moment’s time, a craft beer- and baseball-loving man from the mountains of North Carolina, a scholar of mathematics and ecumenism, a tree house-building father and fan (along with his younger daughter) of Arcade Fire, will be made a bishop in our Church. Come, Holy Spirit.”

Brown was vested with a stole and chasuble, gifts of the people of the Diocese of Delaware; a pectoral cross, gift of his family; and a ring, gift of the clergy of the Diocese of Delaware. He was also presented with a miter, gift of his former parish of Holy Comforter; a cope, gift of the Diocese of North Carolina; and a rochet and a chimere, gifts of the Diocese of West Tennessee, where Brown had also served. Wright presented him the crozier of the Diocese of Delaware.

Brown followed the exchange of the Peace with his thanks, saying, “It will take me a while to get used to this hat.” He also commented, “Prayer will change your life if you let it.”

On his first Sunday as bishop, Brown attended an evensong service of Lessons and Carols at Christ Church Christiana Hundred in Wilmington.

Brown grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, and studied mathematics and psychology at Duke University. He completed his master of business administration at the University of West Florida while in the U.S. Air Force, worked in finance and marketing at FedEx, and launched an investment firm, before earning a master of divinity from the General Theological Seminary in New York City.

Before the election, he served as rector at Holy Comforter, where he led the merger of separate English and Spanish preschools into a single groundbreaking school focused on bilingual education and dedicated to access for low-income and immigrant families. He previously served as rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Paris, Tennessee.

Following the election, Brown and his wife, Caroline, an accomplished artist, relocated and now live in Wilmington. They have two college-age daughters.

The Episcopal Diocese of Delaware encompasses the three counties of Delaware and includes 9,300 congregants and 34 worshipping communities.

— Lola Michael Russell is staff writer for the Delaware Communion Magazine.

Anglican bishop aims to raise $1 million cycling across Canada

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:46pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop Rob Hardwick of the Diocese of Qu’Appelle will spend much of his four-month sabbatical this year bicycling across Canada to raise money for ministry projects within the diocese and beyond. Hardwick plans to cycle from Victoria, British Columbia, to St John’s, Newfoundland, a total of about 4,895 miles over 82 days.

Read the full article here.

How do you talk with your neighbor about gun violence — when your neighbor is the NRA president?

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:40pm

Retired Bishop Christopher Epting, former bishop of Iowa (second from left), leads a closing prayer Dec. 10 at the conclusion of a 3.2 mile walk from at the United Church of Christ in Grinnell, Iowa, to the entrance to Brownell’s factory. The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grinnell, is in white on right. Photo: Meg Wagner

[Episcopal Diocese of Iowa] People of all ages and faiths gathered in Grinnell, Iowa on December 10th for an interfaith service of remembrance for victims of gun violence. Afterwards they walked over three miles, silently and prayerfully, to stand in witness at Brownell’s in Grinnell, the world’s largest supplier of gun parts and accessories.

The service and walk were part of “26 Days of Action Against Gun Violence” that has been organized by residents, faith leaders, Grinnell College students, and faculty. The organizers hope to engage their neighbor, Pete Brownell, president of the National Rifle Association and CEO of Brownell’s, in conversation about gun safety and ways to reduce gun violence.

“It’s been an organic process,” said Vicky Springer, one of the organizers of the days of action and a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Grinnell. “It started with neighbor talking to neighbor, individuals coming together with broken hearts, really.”

And not every town in America has the president of the NRA as their neighbor. When Pete Brownell was elected as NRA president in May, his neighbors felt like there was an opportunity for conversation.

The Rev. Wendy Abrahamson, rector at St. Paul’s said, “After Las Vegas, this all coalesced from different places. Someone asked me, ‘Has anyone ever talked to Pete directly?’ And I went, huh. That would be kind of respectful towards him as a human being. I’ll try.”

Abrahamson called Brownell’s corporate office and left a message with his secretary to see if he could meet with her and another pastor to work together towards gun safety. Then she waited. After some time went by, she realized they had mutual friends on Facebook and so sent him another message through Facebook Messenger. Abrahamson says there has been no response.

“I had found it difficult to understand why a conversation was not occurring in this community about the NRA, about gun safety, when we had this person right in our community that we could engage with in this way,” said Eliza Willis, a political science professor at Grinnell College.  “I realized that there were other people who shared my view, that this was something we should be discussing, especially because he is the president of the NRA and we have a chance to engage in some way.”

So, she and others in the group wrote a letter to him as a neighbor, as friend to many of the people in town, and as a respected member of the community. To them it seemed like a natural thing to try and have this conversation.

Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders Dec. 10 join to lead a service of remembrance in Grinnell, Iowa for victims of gun violence. After the service the group walked to Brownell’s, the world’s largest supplier of gun parts and accessories, to stand in prayer. Photo: Meg Wagner

Janet Carl, member at First Presbyterian Church in Grinnell said, “I’ve never been a part of an organizing effort that has been quite like this.” Members of the group planned 26 Days of Action Against Gun Violence, one day for every person killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, five years ago by Adam Lanza.

The 26 Days of Action Against Gun Violence included discussions, story sharing, watching NRA videos, making phone calls to elected representatives, and screenings of “Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA” and “Newtown.”

David Wheeler, whose son Ben was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, came to Grinnell for the Dec. 5 screening of “Newtown” along with the filmmakers. David Wheeler also wrote Pete Brownell a letter, asking if they could meet and talk while he was in Grinnell. Wheeler said that Brownell did not respond.

The 26 Days included actions that could be taken by individuals and groups, in public and from home, with lots of opportunities to engage in conversation and learning about gun safety and the impact of gun violence.

“What’s been extraordinary for me personally is that I really feel an empowerment and my fear has greatly been reduced just by taking action” said Springer.

Iowa Bishop Alan Scarfe preaches at the Interfaith Service of Remembrance Dec. 10 in Grinnell. His wife, Donna Scarfe was the sign language interpreter for the service. Photo: Meg Wagner

The Dec. 10 Interfaith Service of Remembrance was held at the United Church of Christ in Grinnell and was led by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith leaders. The Rt. Rev Alan Scarfe, bishop of Iowa, saying that, “Every valley of ignorance and despair must be uplifted. Every mountaintop of fixed positions and fearful hoarding must be brought low. And every crooked road of legislative cat-and-mouse twisting and turning needs to be made straight so everyone can see the glory of God and the glory of a humanity able to learn war no more— turning its spears into pruning hooks and its swords to plowshares.”

“What could be more Iowa than that?” he added.

After the service about 100 people joined the 3.2-mile silent walk to Brownell’s factory by Interstate 80 in Grinnell. As the sun was beginning to set, they reached the turnoff to Brownell’s factory and retail store. There the group stayed for a while and prayed together. The 26 Days of Action will culminate in a vigil called “Honor with Action” on Dec. 14 in Central Park in Grinnell.

“The thing that means a lot to me in this is that it is 26 days of ACTION. Because, as everyone else is saying, I’m sick of thoughts and prayers,” Abrahamson said. “I feel like this is prayer—what we are doing.”

— The Rev. Meg Wagner serves as the missioner for communications and reconciliation for the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa.

Rain can’t dampen spirits of 45,000 Christians singing in Borneo Christmas march

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:37pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Around 45,000 Christians from Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Evangelical and other churches marched through the Borneo city of Miri on Dec. 9 for the 10th annual Miri Christmas March. Christians from 20 different churches processed to the Miri City Fan, an outdoor venue with seating arranged around four sides of a square stage, where they worshipped despite heavy rainfall.

Read the full article here.