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

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

The Rev. Audra Abt presides over the Spanish “Misa,” or Mass, at a home service in Greensboro, North Carolina. Photo: Alex Maness/Faith & Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abt leads parishioners in a hymn at the Spanish Misa. Photo: Alex Maness/Faith & Leadership

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

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

Piecing together a career

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

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

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

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

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

A parishioner receives a blessing during the Misa. Photo: Alex Maness/Faith & Leadership

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

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

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

Among those patient friends is José David Garay.

A friendship flourishes

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

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

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

José David Garay (in the red shirt) and his family immigrated from Honduras in 2013. They are an integral part of the Spanish Misa. Photo: Alex Maness/Faith & Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatima Flores laughs with Abt as she holds Flores’ son Jair, who will be baptized Sept. 1, 2019. Photo: Alex Maness/Faith & Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Playful and neighborly’

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

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

Parishioners at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit gather for a Sunday service. Photo: Alex Maness/Faith & Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In addition to a Tuesday health access ministry, the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit offers a food and diaper pantry. Abt and a parishioner check out the items in the closet. Photo: Alex Maness/Faith & Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Akingbade walks through the community garden at Holy Spirit, where she has been a member for more than three decades. Photo: Alex Maness/Faith & Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was first published in Faith & Leadership.

The post A multilingual priest connects her congregation and its community through language and listening appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We remember and we repent’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Radford and Abingdon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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New Hampshire churches’ immigrant ‘Solidarity Walk’ expands to include segments in 4 states

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 3:57pm

Participants in the 2018 Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice make their way from Manchester, New Hampshire, to Dover, tracing the path immigrants take when they are detained by federal authorities and held in the Strafford County jail. Photo: David Price

[Episcopal News Service] A faith-based march to a jail that holds immigrant detainees in Dover, New Hampshire, has grown in its second year to include walkers – and cyclists – from four states who are calling on government agencies to treat the immigrants in their communities with dignity and compassion.

The Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice, scheduled for this week, will culminate Aug. 24 in a prayer vigil outside the Strafford County Department of Corrections, one of the few facilities in New England with a federal contract to hold immigrant detainees. As with the inaugural Solidarity Walk in August 2018, participants this year will trek some or all of the distance to the jail by choosing one or more daylong segments.

About 100 people participated in last year’s prayer vigil at the jail. “It was a great start,” said the Rev. Jason Wells, an Episcopal priest and executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, which coordinates the Solidarity Walk. “It caught a lot of people’s imaginations. It got them inspired.”

He estimated that participation will at least double this year, now that interfaith advocacy groups in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont are organizing their own segments. The four groups will converge by midday Aug. 24 for lunch in Madbury, New Hampshire, before continuing to the jail.

The group from Massachusetts already is on its way. The Essex County Community Organization is coordinating the Massachusetts segments, stretched over six days so walkers can cover the 76 miles in time for the vigil in Dover. https://www.eccoaction.org/solidarity-pilgrimage It embarked Aug. 19 after a kickoff rally outside the federal building in Boston.

Another group is being organized by Vermont Interfaith Action. It leaves the Unitarian Church of Montpelier on Aug. 21 and has more ground to cover than any of the other groups, so participants will head out on bicycles instead of on foot. Estimated distance: 160 miles over four days.

The shortest walk is the one organized by Maine’s Kittery Advocates for All.  It starts early Aug. 24 in South Berwick, just across the Salmon Falls River from New Hampshire, and it will cover the 15 miles to Dover in about five hours of walking.

Participants from New Hampshire will walk up to 36 miles over four days, starting Aug. 21 at the federal courthouse in Concord.

One of the goals of the inaugural Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice was to draw attention to immigration issues in upper New England at a time when much of the focus politically had been on the United States’ southern border. This year, tensions remain high in southern states, with the Trump administration tightening its regulation of border crossings while facing criticism for its treatment of immigrant families being held in detention.

Wells noted that while large-scale immigration enforcement raids in Mississippi drew national headlines this month, smaller raids have extended north to New Hampshire. More than two dozen people lacking immigration documentation were taken into custody in the past month in the Lebanon and Littleton areas.

The New Hampshire Council of Churches, which includes the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, has been active on a number of immigration fronts, Wells said, including pressing the state’s federal lawmakers to decrease “federal funding for the deportation machine.” And with New Hampshire set to hold the nation’s first presidential primary in February, people of faith are asking candidates on the campaign trail how they would stop what they see as harmful enforcement policies.

Member churches are particularly alarmed by separation of families during deportation proceedings, and Wells said that threat has been amplified by the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era policy also known as DACA that protected about 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

DACA recipients are now being used as bargaining chips in legislative negotiations, Wells said, which “treats real human lives without the dignity that we would extend to everyone else.”

The Strafford County jail in Dover, New Hampshire, is one of more than 200 prisons and jails that hold federal immigration detainees and the one such facility in the state. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Such topics are expected to be part of the conversation during evening gatherings this week at the end of each segment of the Solidarity Walk. Participants will close each day at host churches, which will offer potluck suppers and a place for multi-day walkers to stay overnight.

On the final day, members of the public are invited to join the four-state group of walkers and cyclists at 4 p.m. for the prayer vigil at the Strafford County jail. A leader from the advocacy group Faith in Action is expected to lead a litany of lament for individuals and families harmed through immigration enforcement actions.

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

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St. Louis parish that left Roman Catholic Church in serious talks to join Episcopal Diocese of Missouri

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 4:54pm

[Diocese of Missouri] After years of discussion and discernment, we may soon have word about a possible union between St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish Catholic Parish and the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri.

In a survey of parishioners conducted Sunday, Aug. 11, 58% of St. Stanislaus’ members said they are in favor of affiliating with our diocese. That survey has led to continued discussions between St. Stanislaus and The Episcopal Church, with an update on the situation expected at any time.

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

“There’s a natural attraction, a natural gravity to your model of being Catholic — it’s so natural,” said the Rev. Marek Bozek, pastor at St. Stanislaus. Fr. Bozek describes his parish’s members as “progressive traditionalists.” He says they are very traditional when it comes to liturgy, but also believe in the full inclusion of everyone at every possible level of the church.

“Many marginalized Roman Catholics have found a home at St. Stanislaus. They really are of kindred spirit,” said Bishop Wayne Smith, who welcomes the possibility of a union.

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

Although they welcomed independence, the parish began seeking affiliation with other churches to be connected to a wider community and, as Fr. Bozek says, a priest needs a bishop. Fr. Bozek and Bishop Smith began discussing a possible union in 2013. Bishop Smith issued a letter to the diocese at that time:

“On the face of it, the Diocese and St. Stanislaus have many things in common — in sacramental practices, in Catholic identity, in commitment to the marginalized, in having cherished heritages.”

The letter goes on to explain The Episcopal Church’s existing connection to St. Stanislaus through the Union of Utrecht, of which both churches are in full communion:

“The Union of Utrecht consists of churches in 10 European nations with about one half-million members in all and, like the [Anglican] Communion, it preserves the historic episcopate and recognizes the seven sacraments of the Western church. It recognizes the three Catholic orders of ministry. The Union regards The Episcopal Church of the Anglican Communion as its representative in the United States.”

Since those initial discussions six years ago, members of St. Stanislaus have considered all their options, including unions with other churches. Bishop Smith said he felt it was important to give the parish time and space to make their own decision.

Bishop Smith met with Fr. Bozek and lay leaders of the parish earlier this month — before their survey — to answer questions. He assured members their parish would be able to maintain their own traditions or incorporate those of The Episcopal Church, if they so choose. (Canon I.16 of The Episcopal Church provides for a parish to come into affiliation with one of its dioceses and yet retain its own liturgical practices and rites.) Under the union, our bishop would make regular visitations, provide oversight for the congregation and clergy, and assist any members seeking ordination.

“I’m so very grateful to Bishop Smith in his position. He’s been so gracious to us,” Fr. Bozek said. “He’s going out of his way to make sure we can keep our identity as a Polish Catholic church. I truly appreciate his efforts.”

Bishop Smith has notified the Diocesan Standing Committee, Bishop Mike Klusmeyer of West Virginia (liaison to the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference) and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry about this possible union. For the affiliation to be official, Bishop Smith would make an application to Presiding Bishop Curry on behalf of St. Stanislaus to request permission for the union.

Whether St. Stanislaus officially affiliates with the diocese or not, the parish will be playing a major role in our near future by hosting the ordination and consecration of our 11th bishop on April 25, 2020. The Transition Committee chose their sacred space for the event because of its size, accessibility and inclusiveness to all. The church shares grounds with the Polish Heritage Center, which will host a celebration reception following the service.

Please send any comments, questions or concerns about this possible union to communications@diocesemo.org.

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

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Churches urged to join in World Day of Prayer for Creation

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 5:09pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Green Anglicans are urging churches to join in the World Creation Day of Prayer on Sunday, Sept. 1. The day marks the start of an annual celebration of prayer and action to protect creation called the Season of Creation.

The season, which begins on Sept. 1 and runs through the Feast Day of St. Francis on Oct. 4, is set to be celebrated by tens of thousands of Christians around the world. Volunteers organize a range of events and activities in their own communities, from prayer services to litter cleanups or advocacy actions.

Read the full article here.

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RIP: Edward Alonza Holmes Jr., founder of church’s Overseas Development Office

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 4:56pm

Edward Alonza Holmes Jr. (June 6, 1925 – August 12, 2019)

Edward Alonza Holmes Jr. packed adventure and good works into his 94 years of life. Born June 6, 1925, in rural Washington County, Georgia, he was the oldest of a family of three boys and two girls. He did well in school and athletics, all while helping with all the various chores on the family farm. After he completed high school, he became a naval aviator and trained as a dive bomber pilot during World War II. His passion for flying remained with him throughout his life and extended to restoring an old Aerocoupe — his favorite aircraft — which he flew for years.

After the war he completed his undergraduate degree at Mercer University and then earned a divinity degree and a Ph.D. in history from Emory University.

He became a chaplain in the Naval Reserves and served until his retirement as a commander in 1972. Up until the last decade of his life, he remained an enthusiastic pilot.

Ed’s career reflected his interest in serving and helping make the world a better place. He was an ordained Baptist minister, a professor at Stetson University, a dean at Emory University, a soccer coach and referee, a Peace Corps regional director in Nigeria, and the founder of the Overseas Development Office of the Episcopal Church,which helped establish libraries, hospitals and refugee programs in many areas of Africa. In Liberia, he was the dean of a private university and creator of a rural farming development program, and a grants administrator for the International Foundation.

Ed loved doing things that made the world a better place and worked well into his 80s. He traveled all over the world, meeting and encouraging people, and helped fund projects in health, education, and humanitarian assistance.

Thailand, the Amazon River basin, Vietnam, Sudan, Kenya, Liberia, the Philippines and many other developing areas benefited from his work, which brought hospitals, schools, clean running water and other resources they needed.

He had an undying interest in the happenings in the worlds of science, history and human affairs and was an avid reader of books, periodicals and magazines that expanded on his voracious appetite for knowledge. Ed was also a lifelong athlete who loved competing in track and field events, especially high jump, shot put, discus, and hurdles. Inducted into the Emory University Sports Hall of Fame, he continued attaining records and wins in masters events worldwide up into his 80s.

He was the proud and loving patriarch of a large family. He leaves behind his beloved wife, Shirley Miller Holmes, and children, Jane Holmes Bass (Leon), Margaret Holmes Bryant (Bill), Graham Holmes (Rebekah), and Shirley Kathryn Woods (Tim); as well as stepchildren Frances Page Glascoe, Charlotte Rorech (Paul), and David Page, along with numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. Edward was preceded in death by two sons, Edward A. (Skip) Holmes III and Douglas M. Holmes.

A memorial service will be held at Whispering Pines Retirement Community, 7501 Lead Mine Road, Raleigh, NC 27615. The date and time of the service are still to be determined.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center (https://splcenter.org).

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Welby backs proposal for Holocaust memorial beside London’s Houses of Parliament

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 3:14pm

Archbishop Justin Welby at Auschwitz in 2017. Photo: Lambeth Palace

[Anglican Communion News Service] The archbishop of Canterbury has given his support to plans for a Holocaust memorial and museum next to the Palace of Westminster in central London.

Archbishop Justin Welby is among other senior faith leaders to back the proposal to build a series of bronze structures in Victoria Tower Gardens, alongside the Thames River and the Palace of Westminster.

The plans include an underground learning center to commemorate the millions killed by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Read the full article here.

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Appeal launched to help restore historic cathedral in Mauritius

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 1:20pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The bishop of Mauritius and former primate of the Anglican Church of the Indian Ocean, Archbishop Ian Ernest, has helped launch an appeal to restore the Cathedral of St. James, the mother church of the Diocese of Mauritius, which has been closed for the past year.

The Archbishop, who will take up his new role as the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome later this year, said: “The cathedral has been used as a place of prayer since 1832. Today we have the opportunity to give a second birth to this holy place, which is part of the national heritage of Port Louis. We pray God’s help is with us to discover the generosity within us, so that together future generations are able to discover the diligence with which we have taken care of this holy place, which belongs to all of us.”

The appeal aims to raise funds towards the restoration of the 160-year-old building, which has gradually been falling into disrepair with damage to its roofs and internal structures.

Read the full article here.

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Nominations sought for women’s advocates to attend UN event in 2020

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 1:14pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The search is on for women from across the Anglican Communion to attend the 64th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), to be held in New York next March.

Each year the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, invites primates to nominate women to represent the Anglican Communion at the event. The annual meeting of the CSW draws 9,000 women and men from all the regions of the world to the U.N.’s New York headquarters, with delegates representing and advocating for an estimated 3.7 billion women and girls worldwide.

Read the full article here.

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Youth officer’s advocacy helps Scottish churches tackle rural poverty

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 1:08pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A youth officer from the Scottish Episcopal Church has been helping rural churches take practical steps to tackle child poverty in their communities.

Ley-Anne Forsyth, 29, who works part time for the Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness, in addition to working for a social housing provider, has been a powerful advocate visiting churches and challenging church leaders about tackling injustices in their communities.

“I’ve been a youth officer for the past five or six years and the reason I do that is because young people need a voice,” she said. “I was a young person in a church who needed a voice once, and I was given it by our youth chaplain. It is a really important thing that young people are heard and are influencing our decisions because it’s their world we’re leaving behind.”

Read the full article here.

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Milwaukee bishop announces plans to retire in 2020

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 9:49am

[Diocese of Milwaukee] Milwaukee Bishop Steven Andrew Miller announced his plans to retire in November 2020 in an Aug. 14 letter to the diocese. 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Some years ago when Cindy and I were replacing the roof on our home in Racine, one of our neighbors came by and asked if there was a problem with the roof or was it “just time.” We responded it was “just time.” This phrase has now become part of our family vocabulary. That conversation came to me as I prepared to write this letter to you.

After over thirty-five years of ordained ministry and almost sixteen years as your bishop, it has become clear to me that it is time for me to retire and pass the crozier on to the 12th bishop of Milwaukee. Last night, the Standing Committee, Chancellor and I met with the Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley of the Office of Pastoral Development to inform them of my intention to retire in November of 2020 and to begin the process of electing the next bishop of this Diocese.

I have felt a multitude of emotions as I considered these plans, but gratitude for our work and life together in my 16 years as your bishop is first and foremost. I have loved being your bishop and serving Christ with and among you. Our diocese has made a distinctive commitment to forming young persons for ordained ministry and giving them the opportunity to lead, as evidenced by the fact that we have the second-youngest average age of priests in the Episcopal Church. Moreover, thanks to the joint venture with LZ Developers at St. Francis House, our campus ministries at UW-Madison and around the Diocese are on a sure financial footing.

We have also reformed the way that we as a diocese come together to do the work that God has given us to do. Our governance is more representative and transparent than ever, and by making some difficult choices, we’ve lowered the percentage that parishes pay into the diocesan budget and the percentage of the diocesan budget that comes from these assessments. And through some difficult years in the life of our church, our diocese has remained united—not of one mind on all the issues of the day, but united in Christ nonetheless.

With my impending retirement, you have an opportunity, from a position of stability, to face the future. I pray that God will bless you with wisdom and courage, and that the Holy Spirit will lead you in discerning the role our diocese is called to play in the lives of our members, our communities and our church.

In the months I have remaining with you, Cindy, the girls and I hope to have the opportunity to say good-bye to many of you in person. Please be assured that you are in my prayers and that I will carry you all in my heart wherever God calls me to go.

Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller
11th Bishop of Milwaukee

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Anglican Journal launches digital magazine ‘Epiphanies’

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 1:38pm

[Anglican Journal] Anglicans looking for in-depth stories and diverse perspectives on complex subjects have a new place to look: Epiphanies, a digital magazine produced by the Anglican Journal team.

The summer issue of Epiphanies, published Aug. 12, focuses on crisis within creation. This first issue offers in-depth reporting on the theology of beeschurch greeningclimate change in the North and food security in Newfoundland and Labrador. It also features reflections by Primate Linda NichollsNational Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald, and the Rev. Vivian Seegers.

Read the full article.

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ELCA Churchwide Assembly calls sexism and patriarchy sins, condemns white supremacy

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 11:55am

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, far left, addresses the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Aug. 8, 2019. Photo: Emily McFarlan Miller/Religion News Service

[Religion News Service] A new social statement from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America labels patriarchy and sexism as sins and acknowledges the church’s complicity in them.

The social statement — titled “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action” — was approved by the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly with 97 percent of the vote Friday morning (Aug. 9) on the last full day of the denomination’s triennial meeting at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee.

Afterward, the assembly rose in a standing ovation and sang “Canticle of the Turning,” with the lyrics, “Wipe away all tears,/ For the dawn draws near,/ And the world is about to turn.”

And the Rev. April Larson, the first woman bishop in the ELCA, spoke about the changes she has seen in the church in the 50 years since Lutherans began ordaining women in the United States.

“What a time. What a day for me to be here with you, and I’m so thankful to God and to our wonderful church,” Larson said.

“We are changing. We are being made new. God is busy with us.”

The social statement, which focuses on issues related to justice for women, is seven years in the making.

When the task force that created it started its work, “women’s justice issues were not dominant news,” said Bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin.

That changed in recent years, as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have drawn attention to sexism and violence toward women, said Thomas-Breitfeld, who co-chaired the task force on women and justice.

“It seems that our work flourished in the sweet spot of the shifting societal awareness,” she said.

For the mainline Lutheran denomination, social statements like the one on women and justice are teaching and policy documents that provide a framework for members to think about and discuss social issues.

This is the 13th social statement adopted by the ELCA. Others include topics like race, ethnicity and culture; caring for creation; and human sexuality.

The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly called for the denomination to write the latest statement, said Mary Streufert, director of the ELCA’s Justice for Women program.

“The thoughtful foresight of the church to precede #MeToo — it’s quite stunning to know that there is this proactive work as opposed to reactive work,” Streufert said.

She said the statement offers an alternative way for the country to see Christianity’s view of women. That’s needed, she said, at a time when “the predominant Christian way to talk about gender puts men and women in a hierarchy.”

A specially created task force consulted with experts both inside and outside the church about topics related to justice for women. Task force members also listened to fellow Lutherans about what they hoped the statement would express, Streufert said.

Most of the feedback the task force received was positive, according to the director.

She said that at least one retiring bishop told her, “I’ve been waiting all my life for the church to say something like this.”

And task force member Bethany Fayard of the Southeastern Synod said she heard from a number of teens at an ELCA youth gathering about their experiences of bullying and sexual assault.

“Many came back multiple times because they felt like we were listening and that this church stands with them,” Fayard said.

“This social statement is a declaration by the ELCA that we stand with all women. Here I stand. Let us stand together.”

Fayard identified herself as a survivor of sexual assault in a different denomination. But it’s not just survivors of gender-based violence who are harmed by patriarchy, she said.

“For too long, women and girls haven’t been able to see God’s reflection in ourselves,” she said.

Serving on the task force challenged some of the preconceived notions held by William Rodriguez of the Florida-Bahamas Synod, he said.

Rodriguez — who teaches ethics, Christian ethics, theories of justice, Africana philosophy and philosophy of religion at Bethune-Cookman University — said his eyes were opened to some of the ways men interact with women that he never had thought about.

That includes telling women to smile or complimenting women’s appearances — things men don’t say to other men, he said.

He also began to notice little ways he treated his son and daughter differently.

“Through the process, I learned so much,” Rodriguez said.

Thomas-Breitfeld, the bishop who co-chaired the task force, said task force members drew from a biblical understanding that God desires “abundant life for all.”

“From the beginning, we wanted to signal that this issue is not only about women. The reason for this work was about all of us,” she said.

The statement on women and justice isn’t meant to sit on a shelf, Thomas-Breitfeld said.

It calls on the ELCA to act to end gender-based violence, to encourage women and girls to pursue ministry and leadership roles in their congregations, to use “gender-inclusive and expansive” language for God and to address inequities in pay and hiring both inside and outside the church.

“We are not able to make the world perfect, but, my siblings, we are called to serve the world in love, including through implementing resolutions that keep us accountable as a church together,” Thomas-Breitfeld said.

With more than 3.3 million baptized members, the ELCA is one of the largest Protestant Christian denominations in the United States. Its churchwide assembly includes 927 voting members from more than 9,100 congregations across the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Other actions that were approved by the Churchwide Assembly as of Friday morning include:

  • A resolution declaring the ELCA a sanctuary denomination — the first denomination in North America to do so, according to Living Lutheran.
  • A resolution condemning white supremacy, specifically calling out language that uses words like “invasion” in reference to immigrants or people of color and naming violent rhetoric in the name of Christian nationalism as “idolatry.”
  • A resolution commemorating June 17 as a “day of repentance in the ELCA for the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9,” who were murdered during a Bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist who was a member of an ELCA congregation. Two of the victims — the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Rev. Daniel Simmons — also had attended an ELCA seminary.
  • A “Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment” approved in front of a large group of ecumenical and interreligious guests — something, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said, “we are not seeing enough of in our country.”
  • A “Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent” that included a confession of the church’s complicity in slavery, named racism as a sin, acknowledged the institutional racism that continues within the denomination and vowed to repent and work for racial justice.
  • And the re-election of Eaton — the first female presiding bishop of the ELCA and now the first to be reelected on the first ballot, according to the denomination.

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Disability advocates call for inclusive action by UN for refugees

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 5:26pm

Migrants waiting to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia carry a woman in a wheelchair in a camp near the village of Idomeni, Greece, in March 2016. Photo: Marko Djurica / Reuters via ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] Church disability advocates from various countries have called for further action from the United Nations to protect people with disabilities in areas of conflict.

Eighteen leaders from the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (WCC-EDAN), met in Beirut, Lebanon, in July, to address concerns in the region and to evaluate the strategic plan.

Executive secretary for the WCC-EDAN Anjeline Okola Charles said all delegates saw firsthand the difficulties facing those with disabilities in refugee camps and zones of conflict in the Middle East.

Read the entire article here.

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Episcopal diocese joins Mississippi churches offering support for families affected by raids

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 5:08pm

Federal authorities conduct a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement worksite enforcement operation in Canton, Mississippi, on Aug. 7. Photo: Immigration and Customs Enforcement

[Episcopal News Service] The Diocese of Mississippi is mobilizing Episcopalians in the state to assist families affected by federal immigration raids this week as Bishop Brian Seage joined other religious leaders in condemning the raids, in which nearly 700 workers were taken into custody at seven Mississippi chicken processing plants.

A joint statement signed by Seage and four Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran bishops in Mississippi called on the Trump administration to end immigration enforcement tactics that they say are spreading fear in local communities and threatening to cause “unacceptable suffering” for families and children.

“Within any [political] disagreement we should all be held together by our baptismal promises,” the bishops said. As followers of Christ, “we are his body and, therefore, called to act in love as a unified community for our churches, and for the common good of our local communities and nation. … Of course, we are committed to a just and compassionate reform to our nation’s immigration system, but there is an urgent and critical need at this time to avoid a worsening crisis.”

Seage also spoke briefly at an immigrant rights rally Aug. 8 in Jackson and issued a written statement that raised specific concerns about the effects of the raids on families living in Mississippi.

“We don’t know how many children have been affected at this time, but I am asking for churches and individuals willing to help with caring for the children to contact local officials,” Seage said in his online statement. “Likewise, we are exploring avenues through which support, financial and otherwise, may be extended.”

Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeted several plants in central Mississippi on Aug. 7 that were suspected of employing workers who lacked proper immigration documentation. The raids were said to be the largest conducted so far under President Donald Trump, whose hardline approach to immigration has been a cornerstone of his campaign and presidency.

The Department of Justice announced the day after the raids that 300 of those detained already had been released.

“That’s not enough,” Seage said at the rally in Jackson (starting at about the 36:00 mark here). “And it won’t be enough until all those families are reunited – and likewise, [until] others who dare to have the American dream and dare to go to work can go to work and not worry whether or not they will be coming home at night.”

Seage told the crowd he was horrified by the news of the raids. “Horrified to imagine children being separated from their parents,” he said. “And children coming home to an empty house.”

Federal authorities said they took precautions so children were not left without a parent’s care due to the raids. A Justice Department statement said those detained “were asked when they arrived at the processing center whether they had any children who were at school or child care and needed to be picked up,” and cellphones were provided to help them make arrangements for child care as needed, according to the Justice Department. The department said some parents were released to ensure “all children were with at least one of the parents.”

But some of the families were “traumatized,” Bishop Joseph Kopacz of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jackson told the Jesuit magazine America. His diocese’s Catholic Charities is among the agencies reaching out to those families now to offer assistance.

“This is a man-made disaster,” Kopacz said, noting also that the raids happened on the first day of school in these communities. “These folks are our neighbors. They’re not criminals, the vast majority of them. They’re hardworking people.”

Family separations under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies sparked intense controversy last year, prompting federal officials to back down from those measures, though conditions at detention facilities on the southern border remain a contentious issue.

The Episcopal Church, at its General Convention in July 2018, passed a resolution decrying and urging a halt to “the implementation and intensification of inhumane and unjust immigration policies and practices such as detaining and separating children from parents.” It was adopted after more than 1,000 bishops, deputies and other Episcopalians participated in a prayer vigil held outside an immigrant detention facility near the convention center in Austin, Texas.

Another resolution approved last year affirmed the church’s support for “respecting the dignity of immigrants” through immigration policies and reforms.

More recently, church leaders expressed alarm in June when the Trump administration threatened a large-scale roundup of immigrants facing deportation orders in 10 cities. Those threats mostly fizzled.

“We are called as people of faith to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being,” Seage said at the Aug. 8 rally in Jackson.

Seage, in his follow-up statement, asked members of his diocese to contact the Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services if they know of a child affected by the raid who is in need of care. That agency put out its own statement saying it was ready to assist children whose parents were detained.

Federal authorities did not alert the state to any child care needs, but the state agency began preparing an emergency response after learning about the raids through local news reports.

“We have foster homes that have been carefully inspected and licensed, and foster caregivers who have been well trained and have passed criminal background checks,” Child Protective Services spokeswoman Lea Anne Brandon said in a news release. “We know we can provide safe and secure placements and trauma-informed temporary care for these children – but we have not been asked to do so.”

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

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Maori trip to South Dakota reservation highlights unity of indigenous Anglicans

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 5:04pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] To mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on Aug. 9, Anglican Communion News Service spoke with Isaac Beach, a youth representative on the Anglican Consultative Council from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Beach is a Maori of Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Rangitihi decent. He is is Kaikarakia (prayer leader) at Saint Luke’s in Paki Paki, a village on Aotearoa, New Zealand’s North Island.

“Recently, six indigenous youth from my diocese visited Pine Ridge Reservation in the Diocese of South Dakota, where we spent two weeks in cultural exchange and indigenous mission with the Red Shirt community of Lakota-Oglala Nation,” Beach said. “I strongly believe exposing our young people to international experiences through indigenous exchange is critical to informing how they can live a Christ-centered life. It is a wonderful tool for intentional discipleship.”

Read the full story here.

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ELCA declares itself a ‘sanctuary church body,’ marches to ICE building in Milwaukee

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 5:11pm

Hundreds of attendees at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly march to the ICE building in Milwaukee for a prayer vigil in support of migrant children and their families on Aug. 7, 2019. Photo: Emily McFarlan Miller/RNS

[Religion News Service – Milwaukee] More than 500 years ago, a monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses outlining his grievances with the Roman Catholic Church to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

On Aug. 7, members of the mainline Protestant denomination bearing Luther’s name taped 9.5 theses — expressing their concern for immigrants and refugees — to the door of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Milwaukee.

The action was part of a prayer vigil for migrant children and their families during the ELCA Churchwide Assembly this week at Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center.

It took place on the same day the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declared itself a “sanctuary church body,” signaling its support for immigrants.

Both came in response to President Trump’s policies at the United States border with Mexico and his pledge to deport millions.

“It just keeps getting worse and worse in terms of unaccompanied children, separated families, detention centers that are just horrific, and so what we wanted to say as a church body, as the Lutheran church, we wanted to now act with our feet and take action,” said Evelyn Soto Straw, director of unit operations and programs for the ELCA’s Domestic Mission.

More than 570 voting members of the churchwide assembly signed up to participate in the prayer vigil at the ICE building. They were joined by staff from the ELCA and its AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities)  ministry, as well as members of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, the New Sanctuary Movement and Voces de la Frontera, a local grassroots organization.

The group marched nearly a mile from the Wisconsin Center to the ICE building, carrying signs with messages like “We put the protest back in Protestant” and chanting “This is what the love of God looks like.”

There, Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod opened the vigil in prayer to “Jesus Christ, immigrant and savior.”

“Marching is fun, words are great, but action makes a difference,” Erickson told the crowd gathered in the street.

The Rev. Erin Clausen of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod said she joined the vigil as a pastor, a mother and a spouse. Christians are supposed to bring the good news to everyone — “especially to those who are hurting and fearful,” Clausen said.

She thinks of the children separated from their families and of what she would want others to do if that were her child, and her heart breaks, she said.

Clausen marched alongside Iván Pérez, who is lead organizer and trainer on the Metropolitan Chicago Synod’s Antiracism Team.

Pérez, who is Puerto Rican, said his faith gives him boldness to speak out in support of immigrants.

He was “very happy and proud” of the ELCA after the vigil, he said as he marched back to the Wisconsin Center with the group.

Hundreds of attendees at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly march to the ICE building in Milwaukee for a prayer vigil in support of migrant children and their families on Aug. 7, 2019. Photo: Emily McFarlan Miller/RNS

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly — the primary decision-making body of the ELCA — meets through Saturday.

With more than 3.3 million baptized members, the ELCA is one of the largest Protestant Christian denominations in the United States. Its churchwide assembly includes 927 voting members from more than 9,100 congregations across the U.S. and the Caribbean.

The assembly is considering several immigration-related resolutions this week.

On Wednesday afternoon, after the lunchtime vigil, it passed a resolution declaring the ELCA a “sanctuary church body.” That term was proposed by Christopher Vergara, a voting member from the Metro New York Synod.

“We continue to do God’s work with our hands in language the world understands,” Vergara said.

Other measures approved so far this week by the assembly include a resolution recommitting to “being an advocate and justice seeker for immigrants,” advocating for Temporary Protected Status extensions and reaffirming its work with AMMPARO and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to call for immigration policies and practices that keep families together.

Another resolution, calling on congregations, synods and other church organizations to speak out against the “inhumane policies of harassment, detention and deportation implemented by the U.S. government,” also passed.

Next, the assembly will consider a resolution requesting ELCA staff develop a plan for additional tools providing education and discernment “specifically directed to political rhetoric and the accurate portrayal of migrants and refugees.”

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RIP: Robert Stevens, founding director Dominican Development Group

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 11:45am

[Diocese of Southwest Florida] Robert “Bob” Stevens, the founding director of the Dominican Development Group, died July 29, 2019, at age 76.

“We have lost in the Diocese of Southwest Florida a great saintly asset in the life and mission purpose of Dr. Bob Stevens,” said Bishop Dabney Smith, in a statement. “His sudden death is a shock and great sadness for many, both in this diocese and particularly in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic.”

Read the full obituary here.

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Clergy protest outside Mitch McConnell’s office, demand action on gun violence

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 4:19pm

Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington, D.C. speaks to a crowd protesting outside Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington on Aug. 6. Photo: Jack Jenkins/Religion News Service

[Religion News Service] A group of clergy protested outside Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office on Tuesday (Aug 6), calling on the Republican Senate majority leader to take action to address gun violence in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend.

The band of around two-dozen faith leaders, who called themselves the Coalition of Concerned Clergy, prayed and challenged what they said was the Senate’s inaction on the issue of gun violence.

Helping lead the event was the Rev. Rob Schenck, who serves as president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, a nonprofit organization that addresses social issues from a Christian perspective. He listed a number of possible policies lawmakers could pass to address gun violence, such as universal background checks or “extreme vetting” for citizens wishing to purchase an assault rifle, but stressed the issue is a moral one.

“As a Christian … we are required to rescue those who are perishing, to come to their aid, and the Bible says if you fail to do it God will hold you to account,” Schenck, who is also a founding signer of an evangelical Christian pledge to take action on gun violence, told Religion News Service. “That’s our message to the senator today. Maybe he fears the NRA more than God. He shouldn’t.”

Also in attendance was Bishop Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C. A longtime advocate for gun violence prevention, Budde said Congress could pass a number of laws to prevent future bloodshed.

“I am among those who believe weapons of war don’t belong in the hands of civilians,” she said. “We’ve just been lulled into this sense of false helplessness that I find to be one of the greatest manifestations of sin that we need to fight against.”

Speaking to the crowd a few minutes later, Budde compared the scourge of gun violence to the rash of lynchings in America’s past, expressing hope that future generations will recollect mass shootings with disdain and disbelief.

“We will look back on these days and wonder how it was that we could have been so collectively aligned to such a needless proliferation of weapons meant to take human life,” she said.

As they stood outside McConnell’s office, faith leaders read the names of those recently felled during mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

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