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Updated: 57 min 57 sec ago

Hearing on church planting fosters wide-ranging discussion on evangelism’s cutting edge

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 10:29am

The Rev. Kevin Johnson, a priest from Arlington, Texas, speaks July 5 at a hearing on church planting. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] An evening hearing July 5 on church planting, while primarily centered around a General Convention resolution with a multimillion-dollar price tag, addressed financials only in passing while generating more discussion on aspirations for evangelism and the future of the church.

Church planters and ministry developers offered examples from their experiences, and church leaders pressed them for more details on how the Episcopal Church can support such efforts.

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

“I come to you a living witness of the direct effect of investment in a parish,” the Rev. Kevin Johnson, a deputy from the Diocese of Fort Worth, said at the joint hearing of the Evangelism and Church Planting Committee and the Congregational and Diocesan Vitality Committee.

Johnson, though not a recipient of a church planting grant, was able to start a new church with an Episcopal Church grant. His congregation, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Texas, was forced to start anew in a theater after a doctrinal split in the diocese led to a legal dispute over possession of the church building.

In the process, Johnson said, St. Alban’s has found a “new way to be church,” and the quest to find those new ways is at the heart of the Episcopal Church’s increased investment in church plants in recent years.

(Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.)

General Convention approved $1.8 million for church plants and Mission Enterprise Zones in the 2013-15 triennium, and $3.4 million was allocated for such ministries from 2016 to 2018. The evangelism committee has been assigned Resolution A005 that would approve $6.8 million in spending over the next three years to build on recent successes of these “holy experiments.”

The church vitality committee joined the hearing because Resolution A032, which was assigned to it, calls for $3 million in spending on church redevelopment, which overlaps with the work on church planting. By the end of the joint hearing at the JW Marriott, the two committees agreed to move that resolution to the evangelism committee’s plate as well.

Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely, co-chair of the evangelism committee, took the lead in pressing for answers to the question, “What could we do to be more effective?”

Johnson recommended coaching on church development and marketing support. Charis Hill, a delegate from Northern California who spoke from her wheelchair, said she would like to see the church develop more ministries focused on outreach to people with disabilities.

The Rev. Ramelle McCall, a member of the evangelism committee and a deputy from Maryland, suggested churches and dioceses should be looking outward and asking what they can do be a positive presence in the community, from dealing with the opioid epidemic to feeding the hungry.

“It is exhausting work, but it is good work,” said McCall, who is urban missioner for the Diocese of Maryland. One example he cited was a partnership in Maryland between Evangelical Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalians on a joint ministry called the Slate Project, which is “really working this new kind of community in our cathedral.” He spoke in favor of the church planting resolution and the resources it can provide for new, innovative initiatives like those he is working to support in his diocese.

Church planting “is crock pot work, not microwave work,” the Rev. Michael Michie, staff officer for church planting infrastructure, said at the July 5 hearing Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The chairs also asked the Rev. Michael Michie to add his perspective to the discussion. Michie is the Episcopal Church staff officer for church planting infrastructure and works closely with recipients of church planning and Mission Enterprise Zone grants to ensure they are getting the backing they need. Most of these ministries would not be possible without the financial support they receive from the church, he said, and they don’t succeed overnight.

“This is crock pot work, not microwave work,” Michie told the committees. “To expect these seeds to take root, sprout and bear fruit perfectly within triennial cycles is a little unrealistic and I think the central challenge for the episcopal churches when it comes to starting new ministries… it’s a leadership development question.”

At the same time, Michie said, the lessons learned by church planters can be applied to existing congregations everywhere that are looking for new ways to be church in their communities.

“I think any congregation can think like a church planter,” he said. “Revitalization can happen anywhere.”

The committees also took comments on Resolution A006, which calls for the collection of demographic info about the church leaders behind new evangelism ministries, so that data can be compared with info on the communities they are trying to serve.

There was general support for the goal, of encouraging congregations to think more about representation, though committee members expressed ambivalence about the approach. Could it somehow be used to penalize congregations with low representation scores? Would a homogenous vestry overshadow the greater diversity in a congregation’s ministry leaders?

Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows also suggested the Episcopal Church didn’t need a new analysis tool to learn many of its congregations were out of sync with their communities, and she questioned whether collecting this info would have any effect.

“If we want our congregations to reflect our communities’ demographics, there’s a lot of work to do,” she said.

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

Budget committee hears requests for funding at first of two hearings

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 8:37am

Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance has 27 members plus other General Convention officers and support staff, as well as staff members from the treasurer’s office. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal New Service

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

[Episcopal News Service –Austin, Texas] The Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) held the first of two planned open hearings the evening of July 5 to hear from Episcopalians asking that the committee help fund their ministries.

Nearly 30 witnesses spoke to the committee during the 90-minute hearing at the JW Marriott Hotel two blocks from convention’s home in the Austin Convention Center. Among the topics of concern included funding for church planting and congregational redevelopment, Christian formation programs, the work of a proposed Task Force for Women, Truth, and Reconciliation, bringing the Episcopalians in Cuba back into the Episcopal Church, youth ministry, new resources for sexual misconduct-prevention training, the work of the Archives of the Episcopal Church and sustainability work in the church’s indigenous ministries.

PB&F has already begun work on the draft 2019-2021 triennium budget that Executive Council passed in January.

The total income in council’s draft budget of $133.7 million would pay for an equal amount in expenses, with a very small surplus of just $2,654. The triennial budget is up about $8.7 million from that approved by the 2015 meeting of General Convention for the current 2016-2018 triennium.

The Episcopal Church’s three-year budgets are funded primarily by pledges from the church’s 109 dioceses and three regional areas. Each year’s annual giving in the three-year budget is based on a diocese’s income two years earlier, minus $150,000. For the 2016-18 budget, dioceses were asked to give 18 percent in 2016, 16.5 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2018. Not all dioceses pay the full asking for a variety of reasons.

Diocesan commitments for 2017 and 2018 are here.

At the 2015 meeting of General Convention, bishops and deputies turned the current voluntary asking system into a mandatory assessment, beginning with the 2019-2021 budget cycle. Council’s draft anticipates that some dioceses will get full or partial waivers of those payments under a system that will go into effect in the new triennium.

Without getting a waiver, a diocese that does not pay the full assessment will be unable to get grants or loans from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.

(The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society is the name under which the Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business and carries out mission.)

Council’s draft budget is based on a 15 percent mandatory assessment, and it sets money aside for those full or partial waives.

The Rev. Richard Mahaffey, president of the Episcopal Conference of the Deaf, testifies with the help of spoken-word and signing translators. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal New Service

PB&F is being asked to consider Resolution B001 to scrap the mandatory across-the-board assessment and adopt a system of diocesan funding of the church’s triennial budget based on how much each diocese spends on average per congregation in their annual budget. Diocese of Georgia Bishop Scott Benhase, proposer of the resolution, told the committee that it “will actually increase revenue for the church and it will make your jobs much easier… so you can thank me later.”

He compared the current system to a flat income tax, which he said is “regressive” and “not helpful to those on the lower ends.” Benhase said that most economist argue that a “progressive” system such as the one he suggests “is much fairer and it’s more just.”

PB&F plans another open hearing on the budget at 1:15 p.m. July 6. Its final budget must be presented to a joint session of the Houses of Bishops and Deputies no later than the third day before convention’s scheduled adjournment. According to the draft convention schedule, that presentation is set to take place at 10:30 a.m. CDT on July 11.

The bishops and deputies then separately debate and vote on the budget.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

79th General Convention: July 5 sermon by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

Fri, 07/06/2018 - 12:00am

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry begins his sermon at the opening Eucharist at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. Photo: Mike Patterson/Episcopal News Service

And now in the name of our loving, liberating and life-giving God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well good morning Episcopal Church! We are here! We are here! We are here!

I think it was Secretary Barlowe at one of the introductory sessions a few months ago, orientation sessions a few months ago, who said that the theme of the City of Austin was “Keep Austin Weird,” and he said that he had full confidence that we would be able to accomplish that. It is so good, it is so good to be here.

Allow me, if you will, to offer a reflection on the words of Jesus that you just heard from the 15th chapter of John’s gospel, which happened to be at the Last Supper in John’s gospel, at the Last Supper, not long before Jesus would show what love looks like, giving of the self, even sacrificing the self for the good and well-being of others.

At the Last Supper he says, “A new commandment I give you,” not a new option, a new commandment I give you that you love one another. At the Last Supper when he showed them what it looked like by taking a towel and washing the feet of his disciples. At the Last Supper, “as the Father has loved me”, he says, “so have I loved you. Now abide in my love.” When he knew their world would fall apart, when he knew uncertainty and ambiguity was in the air, when he knew that he did not know for sure, or precisely, what lay ahead, and all he could do was trust the Father, and leave it to the Father’s hands through the hands of an empire. And it is then that he said to them what he may be saying to us, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” I don’t know if you heard it, but “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Have you heard it, “I am the vine you are the branches?” Do you hear him whisper, Episcopal branch, of the Jesus Movement? “I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me and I in you, for apart from me,” check this one out, “apart from me you can do nothing. But abide in me and you will bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.”

Allow me, if you will, to reflect on that, the Jesus Movement text, by using another text. They told me never do that in seminary, but I have been out of seminary almost 40 years. But there is another story in the Bible in the gospel that actually may illuminate what Jesus was getting at here. I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me as I in you. For those who abide in me bear much fruit prove to be my disciples. How’s that Lord? By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, not that you can recite the baptismal covenant, that’s important – and it is important – not that you know the Nicene Creed by heart, or whichever version with the filioque clause, or without, that’s important, but that’s not it, not that you know the Athanasian Creed at the end of the Prayer Book and those historical documents that only historians actually read. No, how will the world know that you are my disciples? He says that you love one another. Love is the way. Love is the only way. Those who follow in my way follow in the way of unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial love and that kind of love can change the world! That, that kind of love.

But the question is how? How do you do it? Young people – on Wednesday I was with the Youth Presence, they’re probably in here somewhere, I don’t know where – where are y’all? Oh, there they are, all right, there they are! We were talking about this on Wednesday, and somebody said “How do you follow Jesus in the way of love in a world that is profoundly unloving?” How do you do it? This message is for you. So let me talk to them, and I want you to be like Sarah in the Bible, and eavesdrop at the tent.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivers sermon at the opening Eucharist at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. Photo: Mike Patterson/Episcopal News Service

There’s an old song that may help. It says,

I got my hand on the Gospel plow
Wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on

Got my hands on the Gospel plow
Wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on

Now, I have a feeling there are several passages behind that song, but one of them comes out of the 14th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. And in the 14th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has sent his disciples, at least some of them, off on a trip on the sea. And he tells them to get in the boat and he says, Y’all go across to the other side. The y’all was the King James Version of that, but that’s what he – that’s what he . . . Y’all go across to the other side. And as they were on the perilous journey, on the Sea of Galilee, in the middle of the night, if you will, a storm erupts, and they’re fearful for their very lives, ‘cause this is in the middle of the night. And this is night with not having ambient light. This is night without artificial light. All they had, whatever lamps they had in that boat, that was it. It was NIGHT. James Weldon Johnson said, “Blacker than a midnight in a cypress swamp.” Night! And they were fearful because they couldn’t even see the wind and the rain and yet they could feel them buffeting them back and forth, buffeting back and forth!

And then, when it was darkest, when it was most uncertain, Peter looked out, and he could see off in the distance, he saw a figure coming toward them. And he kept looking. And he even stood up in the boat while it was rocking. Imagine the others holding on to him. And the figure kept coming closer. And at first he thought maybe this is a hallucination. And then he could make out the face. And it was Jesus. He was walking on the water. And Peter, without even thinking, says, “Lord, if you bid me come to you I’ll come to you!” And Jesus says, “Well come on, brother,” and Peter jumps out of the boat and starts walking on the water, heading toward Jesus, and he actually did it! He just saw him, he said, “Lord!” He kept walking, “Lord! It’s you!” And then, he looked around, and it was a serious “uh-oh” moment. And the text says – Matthew very skillfully weaves the story – says that when Peter looked at the wind and the waves and saw the storm around him and lost focus off of Jesus and focused on the storm, THAT’S when he began to sink!

Oh, my brothers and sisters, I think there’s something there!

Got my hand on the Gospel plow!
Wouldn’t take nothin’ for the journey now
Just keep your eyes on the prize!
Hold on! Hold on!

Keep your eyes on the prize!
Hold on

Oh, I bet that there’s something here. Now I’m not going to be long, I’m going to bring this to a conclusion . . .

But there is some wisdom here, ‘cause in Matthew’s version, I want you to notice that the storm doesn’t stop. This is not a story about Jesus calming the sea. This is about Jesus, the storm rages on. But if you want to know how to walk through a storm – I like Rodgers and Hammerstein, but that’s probably not the best way to do it – you want to know how to walk through the storm? Keep your eyes on the prize! Keep your eyes focused on this Jesus, on his teachings, on his spirit, abide with him, dwell with him, live in him, when you live in him guess what? He’ll start living in you!

That’s what’s going on!

And the amazing thing about this is yes, Peter walks on the water – that really is amazing, I mean, I’m not surprised that Jesus walks on the water, that’s what he’s supposed to do. I mean, he is the Lord, that’s what I would expect the Lord to do – but I am surprised that Peter does it, and if you look at the dynamics of Peter doing it, it’s when Peter – Dietrich Bonhoeffer – I’m coming to a point, don’t worry, don’t worry – when Peter – Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when he wrote a book called “The Cost of Discipleship”, and he was talking, it’s an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6, and 7, where Jesus says stuff like “Love your enemies,” and Bonhoeffer says, I think what’s going on there, is that you have Jesus giving these teachings about how to live a life of love. But if you approach them as mechanical, legalistic things, you’ll stumble.

Bonhoeffer says the key is not to turn the teachings of Jesus into a new law. The key is to throw yourself into the arms of God. Throw yourself into the hands of Jesus. And then, you might actually learn to love an enemy. Then you might pray for those who curse you. Then you know what it means to be blessed. The poor. The poor in spirit. The compassionate. Makes them hunger for God’s justice.

To throw yourself into the arms of Jesus.

Got my hand on the Gospel plow!
Wouldn’t take nothin’ for the journey now
Just keep your eyes on the prize!
Hold on! Hold on!

Keep your eyes on that prize!
Hold on

Now, I’m gonna ask you to do something. I’m an Episcopalian all my life, so I know how Episcopalians say no, they just get quiet.

Several months ago, I invited a group of Episcopalians, clergy, laity, bishops, just a kind of a group of folk, and I asked them to come and meet, if they would just come and spend just a little bit of time to help me think and pray through how do we help our church to go deeper as the Jesus Movement, not just in word, but not just in deed, either, but for real. How do we help our folk to throw themselves into the arms of Jesus? How do you help me to do that? ‘Cause I know when we do it, and abide in him, we will bear fruit we never imagined. But I have to admit, Michael Curry didn’t have the answer. Still don’t. Yet, you’re saying, what are you going to say for the rest of the sermon?

And so we sat down, we met in the Atlanta airport, cause that was kinda easy, an easy place to be. We met in the Atlanta airport and we just kinda locked up, said Holy Eucharist, said our prayers, and just locked each other – we didn’t do any wining and dining in Atlanta. We didn’t go to underground Atlanta. We didn’t get any Paschal’s fried chicken, though I wish we had but nonetheless, we didn’t, and we locked up in Atlanta, we just stayed there and just kept engaging, and they kept pushing me and we kept going back and forth, back and forth, and finally we realized something, we didn’t need to come up with a new program for the church. We got programs and there’s nothing wrong, but we don’t need a new program. We don’t need a new program. No. No. We realized that – wait a minute, we don’t have to do anything new!

Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel, “The scribe who is fit for the Kingdom goes into their treasure box and pulls out something old that becomes something new.” And we realized that we already have what we need in the tradition of the church going back centuries. For centuries monastic communities and religious communities and people of faith who have gone deeper in this faith have lived by what they often call a rule of life; a set of spiritual practices that they make a commitment to live in, practices that help them open up the soul, open up the spirit, helped them find their way, a way of throwing yourself into the arms of God. They’ve been doing this for long, you don’t believe me ask St. Benedict. They’ve been doing this a long time and we realized, what would happen, what would happen, if we asked every Episcopalian to adopt what we’re calling a way of love, practices for a Jesus-centered life. What would happen? And we got folk together, some of the monastic communities helped us out, some of the theological scholars helped us out. People who do formation in the church people who know how to do…we have what we need. It’s sitting in this room. It’s in the church. We brought them together and asked, help us. And this is what they came up with. It’s not a program. But did you all get these? Take ‘em out, take ‘em out. This is the old parish priest coming in me. I always gave my congregation some homework and had a handout. Got a handout? Everybody got it? If you found it, say, Amen!

If you can’t, say, Help me Lord. And look on that first one that says, What do we seek? We seek love. Because we all just want to be loved. We were made by the God, whom the Bible says is love. We were made to be loved and to love. We seek freedom. Every child of God was meant to breathe free. We seek abundant life, not bargain basement life, but the real thing. Maybe all that’s summed up by saying we seek Jesus. We seek Jesus. They came up with some words, and there’s all sorts of stuff online for you and should be up, I hope it is up by now, it’s already up, yep they’re nodding, it’s already up, the sources are there. This is coming from people in this church. The treasure was ready here.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivers sermon to an auditorium of deputies, bishops and guests at the opening Eucharist at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. Photo: Mike Patterson/Episcopal News Service

It starts, Turn. That’s turn, repentance, that was a nice code word for repentance. We figured we’d scare everybody off if we started off by calling it repentance. But that’s turn. Repentance is not about beating up on yourself, it’s about turning from old ways that don’t work, old habits that don’t, turning and turning, like a flower turning in the direction of the sun. Turn! And then learn. Oh, the Bible’s a good book. I don’t know if it’s the number one best seller on the New York Times list, but it ought to be the number one best seller in the Episcopal Church. I remind all my Baptist friends, we gave you all the King James Version of the Bible. Turn! Learn! Pray! Worship! Bless! O we have been blessed to be to be a blessing. How can you bless this world, how can you bless others? Bless! And then go! Go! Go and make disciples! Go and proclaim good news! Go and be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judaea, in Samaria, in first century Galilee and in twenty-first century Austin! Go! And then rest. Sabbath rest is there in Genesis for a reason. Rest! I want to ask you to think about a commitment. I want to ask not only you, but every Episcopalian to make a commitment to throw yourself into the hands of Jesus. And then live life out of that. And these tools may help you. Now somebody’s wondering, will it work? We’re not far from California, and they field test everything in Silicon Valley. Let the Bishop of El Camino Real, the Bishop of California, see they know what I’m talking about, everything’s got to be tested. And I am glad you asked that question, because I was anticipating it. ‘Cause the truth is, it works. It’s already been field tested. You don’t believe me, read the Psalms of David. In the Psalms of David, the psalmist says, “in the morning, at noonday and at night, I offer my prayers to you.” That is a rule of life. That is a structure of times and places and a way to pray. You don’t believe, you don’t believe the Psalms of David, come to the New Testament. St. Paul, and I know folk have some issues with Paul, but don’t worry about that, my grandma used to say, “St. Paul was like any preacher. He has some good sermons and some not so good sermons. The problem is, they put them all in the Bible.” Oh that’s the problem. Yeah. But let me tell you something, Paul was having a good day in First Corinthians, chapter 9, when he says, he trains himself like an athlete. He trains his spirit like an athlete, like a great musician. He trains himself by practicing. Somebody asked me, how do you live a sacrificial, loving life? Well I guess it’s the same way a first responder does, a firefighter. They’ve practiced. They’ve practiced how to save a life. And when the moment comes, it’s instinct. The spiritual practices are how we practice for when the moment comes, and the Spirit moves through us.

If you still don’t believe me, with this I really am going to sit down, I hope I haven’t thrown the schedule off, the Secretary, he’s way back there, he can’t talk. He can’t stop me. In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, my mama’s people hail from North Carolina. My daddy’s people hail from Alabama. Around, not far from Birmingham in 1963 Birmingham then was not the Birmingham we know, and are thankful to see, today. It’s a different city. In 1963 the sheriff of Birmingham was a man named Bull Connor. I believe he might have been an Episcopalian, but I’m not going to investigate too much. Bull Connor, well, Birmingham was as segregated as segregated could be. Birmingham was seen as one of the most intractable places in the entire south. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference determined that they needed to make a stand in Birmingham in order to transform the south, and eventually the whole country.

And so Dr. King and others went to Birmingham and they went to Alabama. The Alabama we know today is not what Alabama was then. Alabama, Birmingham, 16th Street Baptist Church, my aunt Callie taught Sunday school in that church in 1963. In 1963 four little girls who would have grown up to be my age, were killed in Sunday school when a bomb planted by a Klansman went off in a church. Birmingham in 1963 when young people marched, hoses were, water was sprayed on them from fire hoses and German Shepherd dogs attacked them at the hands of the police. Birmingham, Selma, Edmund Pettus Bridge. Our own Jonathan Daniels gave his life in Alabama. The Alabama today is not what it was yesterday because somebody was willing to love unconditionally, unselfishly, sacrificially. And they were black and white. They were Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Muslim. They were people of God and good will.

As part of their training for non-violent protest, Dr. King composed a set of practices, a kind of rule of life. And here’s part of what it said, “Remember, the non-violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation, not just victory. Remember, always walk and talk in a manner of love, for God is love. Remember, pray daily to be used by God. Remember, sacrifice personal wishes so that all might be free. Remember, observe with friend and foe alike, the ordinary, normal rules of courtesy. Remember, perform services for others and for the world. Remember, refrain from violence of the fist and violence of the spirit. Remember, strive to be in bodily good and spiritual health.” But the first thing on the list that he repeated over and over again, was this, “Before you march, before you protest, before you do anything, meditate on the life and the teachings of Jesus.” My brothers and sisters, I am asking us as the Episcopal Church, no, asking us as individual Episcopalians, asking us as the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement before you begin your day, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus. I am asking you to make that commitment. And nobody’s going to know but you and God, but I am asking you to make the commitment. Before you march, and while we’re here at Convention before you get up to speak at that microphone, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus. You with me now. Right, right. With me now. Before you go over to the water cooler and start whispering something into somebody’s ear, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus! When we leave this Convention meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus. When we come in here to worship, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus. When we go out to the Hutto Detention Center, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus. When we join with Bishops United Against Gun Violence, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus. Episcopal Church, join me, join me and meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus. Throw ourselves into him, and let Jesus take over.

I love this church. I was born and raised in it. Baptized on the eighth day – oh, I don’t know what day it was, but anyway, baptized as an infant according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Lord have mercy! My swaddlin’ clothes were that Episcopal flag. I love this church, and I love it because I learned about Jesus in and through this church. And I know, and I believe that we in this church can help Christianity to reclaim its soul and re-center its life in the way of love, the way of the cross, which is the way of Jesus.

So God love you. God bless you. And just throw yourself in the arms of Jesus and let those almighty hands and arms of love lift you.

Got my hand on the gospel plow.
Wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.
Just keep your eyes on the prize.
Hold on. Hold on.
Keep your eyes on the prize.
Hold on.

Marriage-equality resolutions get long airing during committee hearing

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 8:48pm

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The legislative committee charged with considering changes to the Book of Common Prayer heard from supporters and opponents of Resolution A085, which would strengthen the church’s commitment to sacramental marriage equality.

The resolution would require all bishops of the church to make provision for all couples asking to be married to have “reasonable and convenient access” to the two trial-use marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples approved by the 2015 meeting of General Convention (via Resolution A054). It would also add those rites to the Book of Common Prayer and amend the prayer book’s other marriage rites, prefaces and sections of the Catechism to make language gender neutral.

Cari Stein, left, PBS To the Contrary executive producer, looks over the witness registration list with committee Legislative Aide Liza Anderson. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

General Convention’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage that has monitored the use of the two new marriage rites was aware of concern about unequal access to the trial-use liturgies. Its Blue Book Report says it found widespread acceptance of the rites across the church. Eight diocesan bishops in the 101 domestic dioceses have not authorized their use.

The task force proposed A085 in part to provide such access. Episcopalians who support that effort were active ahead of convention. Claiming the Blessing, a group which formed in 2002 to advocate for the “full inclusion of all the baptized in all sacraments of the church,” according to its website, has published an advocacy piece. Some Episcopalians in the Diocese of Dallas have developed a website called “Dear General Convention” that includes videos and written stories about people who cannot be married in that diocese.

Some opponents also organized their testimony. Among those testifying against the resolution were a number of members of the Church of St. John the Divine in Houston, many of them young people who said they were raised in the evangelical tradition and appreciated the broadness of the Episcopal Church. However, most said they worried about the resolution’s impact on the rest of Anglican Communion and the larger Christian world for what they called a turning away from traditional teachings and interpretation of Scripture.

Julian Borda, from St. John the Divine, said that the Gospel of John warns there are leaders who hear the word of Jesus and who believe it “but then remain silent because they love the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Borda said he is called to be a priest in the church and fears that he that he will be required to “deny an unpopular truth” found in the Book of Genesis that says “God has mandated” that there are men and women, and that marriage is a “lifelong commitment between the male and the female.”

Honduras Deputy Norma Coello said she was raised to believe that what the Bible said was the word of God. “I can’t believe that, at this age, I am going to learn that he was wrong,” she said.

Moreover, many who spoke in opposition said they feared that they would lose their place in the Episcopal Church if the resolution passes.

Emily Hodges, a member of St. John the Divine, told the committee that she felt the resolution would take away her freedom in order to grant it to others. “I have to ask: who’s the winner right now?” she said.

Honduras Deputy José Ramon Juarez registers July 5 to testify against Resolution A085. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Five Province IX diocesan bishops and one retired bishop representing the dioceses of Ecuador Litoral, Ecuador Central, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Honduras warned the task force that if convention makes changes about marriage that would force them “to accept social and cultural practices that have no Biblical basis or acceptance in Christian worship,” the action would “greatly deepen the breach, the division and the Ninth Province will have to learn to walk alone.” The bishops of Colombia and Puerto Rico did not sign the statement.

Diocesan of Honduras Bishop Lloyd was scathing in his criticism of the lack of an official translator for the hearing, saying it was symptomatic of the constant feeling he has of being unwelcome in the church.

“If the church continues to change the prayer book and to play with Scripture, it will be a time, probably, for Province IX, who are not welcome, to begin to walk apart,” he said. “It’s not easy to stand before you and utter these words, but what can we do in a church where we are not welcome?”

Other witnesses explained their support for the resolution. The hearing’s first witness, Fred Ellis, from the Diocese of Dallas whose bishop will not authorize the rites, said A085 “gives us the opportunity to have full status.”

The Rev. Casey Shobe, rector of Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas, told the committee he wants to be able to offer the sacrament of marriage to all members of his church, regardless of their orientation. Currently, LGBTQI Episcopalians and their straight allies in Dallas “feel the stringing pain of exclusion.”

Allen Murray from Diocese of Oregon told the committee he would not argue theology in the two minutes allotted to each witness. Instead, he told the committee that he and his husband have been together for 10 years and married for five of those years. How, he asked, could the Episcopal Church baptize their 3-year-old daughter “but tell her parents that their relationship is not equal?”

Los Angeles Bishop Jon Taylor said that the Episcopal Church’s stance on marriage equality is a matter of evangelism. Despite the number of young people who testified against A085, he said, most polls show that the majority of young people consider the issue “a settled matter.”

“Let’s simplify our message and let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ ” he said, echoing the biblically based motto of some A085 supporters.

Deputies, bishops and visitors packed a meeting room in the Austin Hilton Hotel the afternoon of July 5 to testify on three marriage-related resolutions. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The Rev. Ruth Meyers, a California alternate deputy and liturgy professor who has long been active in the church’s marriage-equality work, told the hearing that the church’s constitution allows for partial revisions of the prayer book. She said the changes to the Book of Common Prayer’s wording “makes room for different understandings” of marriage.

She also reminded the members that passage of A085 would be in line with actions by the Anglican provinces of Brazil and Scotland.

The gathering was also a hearing for Resolution B012, which would continue trial use of the marriage rites without a time limit and without seeking a revision of the prayer book. The resolution proposes that access to the liturgies be provided for in all dioceses, without requiring the permission of the diocesan bishop. Instead, congregations that want to use the rites but whose bishops have refused permission may request and will receive Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) from another bishop of the church who would provide access to the liturgies.

“I implore you to help the whole church move forward,” said Long Island Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, the resolution’s proposer, adding that he fully supports same-sex marriage.

“Some, including member of this committee, have taken great exception to my proposing B012 particularly in the [context of the] long, arduous and faithful work of the task force, but given that, do not, do not dismiss the opportunity that is before you and the church today and in the days to follow at this General Convention.”

To address the concerns of Province IX, Resolution B012 also calls for a “Task Force on Communion Across Difference,” which would be “tasked with finding a lasting path forward for all Episcopalians in one church, without going back on General Convention’s clear decision to extend marriage to all couples, and its firm commitment to provide access to all couples seeking to be married in this church,” the three bishops’ news release said. The task force would seek a path consistent with the church’s polity and the 2015 “Communion Across Difference” statement of the House of Bishops, prompted by bishops who objected to convention’s actions on marriage.

Seven bishops, five who refuse to authorize the rites and two of the five bishops who signed the Province IX statement, said on June 28 that they will implement Resolution B012 if it is passed.

The legislative committee – officially titled the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169 – held a second hearing the evening of July 5 to hear from even more Episcopalians.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

Deputies adopt resolution calling for their president to be paid

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 8:42pm

Deputy Diane Pollard of New York speaks July 5 in favor of the resolution to establish a pay structure for the House of Deputies president. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service –Austin, Texas] The House of Deputies voted July 5 by overwhelming majority in favor of creating a system for paying its president for the work of the office, in recognition of how that work has expanded significantly over the past several decades.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, who currently holds that office, stepped down as chair of the legislative session during discussion of Resolution B014, and after three deputies spoke in favor and one deputy against, Vice President Byron Rushing called a voice vote and announced the resolution had passed. A request for a vote count confirmed the result: 705-120, or 85 percent in favor.

“It has been a long time coming, and I’m sure there are some very special angels looking down on us today as we consider this action,” Diane Pollard, a lay deputy from New York, said before the vote in urging the resolution’s passage. It now goes to the House of Bishops for final approval.

The legislative Churchwide Leadership committee voted unanimously July 4 to recommend Resolution B014 for adoption by both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. The resolution would pay the House of Deputies’ president director’s and officer’s fees “for specific services rendered in order to fulfill duties required by the church’s Constitution and Canons.”

The issue of compensating the president has been discussed for decades. General Convention considered the salary issue in 1997, 2000 and 2015. Each time, the deputies were clear that they wanted to see their president compensated.

“We have debated this issue across several General Conventions in the last three decades. This is the way we get this done and appropriately remunerate and compensate the president of the House of Deputies,” said the Very Rev. Steven Thomason, a deputy from Olympia who is a member of the Churchwide Leadership committee.

Deputy David Quittmeyer of Central Gulf Coast also spoke in favor of the resolution.

“I see this as a generous and substantive move forward,” he said. “This resolution recognizes the [president’s] multiple, mandatory corporate and fiduciary roles.”

House of Deputies Vice President Byron Rushing presides over discussion of Resolution B014 on July 5. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

The question of a salary for the House of Deputies president prompted a rare conference committee between bishops and deputies in the waning hours of the last convention. The 2015 meeting of convention eventually agreed to postpone making a decision, instead calling for the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies to appoint a task force to study the issue.

The Task Force to Study Church Leadership and Compensation, called for by the 78th General Convention, concluded in its report to this meeting of convention that the work of the House of Deputies president amounts to a full-time job. Its Resolution A028 calls for a salary but does not set an amount. Pollard chaired the task force.

In addition to chairing the House of Deputies during convention, the president also is canonically required to serve as vice chair of Executive Council and vice president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, or DFMS, the nonprofit corporate entity through which the Episcopal Church owns property and does business. He or she has a wide swath of appointment powers, 800 positions. The president also travels around the church, speaking at conferences and other gatherings, meeting with deputies and other Episcopalians.

The position, which is filled by election during each meeting of convention, has a travel budget and a paid assistant. Each president is limited to three consecutive three-year terms.

Supporters say making the office a paid job in some way would broaden the pool of people able to consider running for election. The task force said that only people who are older and/or have what it called favorable “personal economic circumstances” can realistically hold the office. Thus, presidents are not always chosen based solely on gifts and skills, the members said.

Others disagree with any proposal to pay the deputies president, some saying they fear “mission creep” and those polity implications in the form of an expansion of the president’s duties and authority.

The only deputy to speak against the resolution on the floor of the house on July 5 was Curtis Hamilton of West Missouri. He took issue with assigning fees for service as a director and an officer.

“I believe that if the president of the House of Deputies is to be provided fees for service, all of our directors should be remunerated similarly,” he said.

Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania Sean Rowe, B014’s proposer, told the committee July 4 that the resolution recognizes that the president of the House of Deputies has “extraordinary duties, that it is a matter of justice, that it is a matter of the pool of candidates that could present themselves for such a position [in its current unpaid form] and that it is fair for what the Constitution and Canons require of the position that it be compensated.” He also said the resolution changes nothing about the church’s polity and the role of the House of Deputies president compared to that of the presiding bishop.

Discussion and voting on the resolution by the House of Deputies took about 20 minutes. After its approval was confirmed and the vote count announced, applause broke out on the floor, which drew some objections.

I’m glad the PHOD compensation resolution passed, but we should not applaud legislative action. Ever. #gc79

— Scott Gunn ن (@scottagunn) July 5, 2018

The house parliamentarian was asked about the prudence of such an audible display of approval after a vote, and the parliamentarian confirmed it was frowned upon.

Jennings, now having returned to her seat as chair, said she agreed.

“The House celebrates people but not votes,” she said.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org. Senior editor and reporter Mary Frances Schjonberg contributed to this report.

Book of Occasional Services faces changes

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 7:36pm

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music heard testimony July 5 on General Convention Resolution A064, which calls for the authorization of the use of the Book of Occasional Services, 2018.  It has been 39 years since the supplement was first published and 15 years since its last revision. These revisions have been underway since the 2012 General Convention A056 called for them.

It was the consensus of the two who testified today that the resolution to move forward with BOS, 2018 should be adopted. The Rev. Jared Cramer, who has studied the revisions extensively in his blog, Care with the Cure, said in his testimony, “There is so much good in the book we need in the Church now.”

Even with all the positive accolades offered for the work done by the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music over the last two trienniums to make revisions, edits, additions, and even deletions to the 2003 edition, BOS, 2018 is still a work in progress.

The committee is submitting three resolutions out of its sub-committee for the revisions to the Book of Occasional Services. The first one recommends that BOS, 2018 be made available as a resource to the Church, allowing for a digital posting of the book for use over the next triennium, with a review by SCLM ready for General Convention in 2021, before going to press with a hardcover book.

Deputy Jack Zamboni of New Jersey added, “it may be the time that the Church no longer needs a [physical] ‘book’ of occasional services, but a digital resource. Not something with a cover.”

The committee is also submitting a resolution to review and revise specific liturgies, and one to create a digital resources manager who would curate liturgical resources for the Church. The second resolution also contains a budget request of $325,000 over the next triennium.

Dean Benjamin Shambaugh, a deputy from Maine, said of the latter submission, “This position shows the need to move the Church forward in its use of digital resources – creation, curation. The Anglican Communion does this very well already.”

– Sharon Tillman is a freelance writer with Episcopal News Service

Proposal to change provincial representation on Executive Council draws questions

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 6:54pm

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The Governance and Structure  Committee on July 5 struggled with the question of how to ensure that the geographical areas covered by the Episcopal Church’s nine provinces receive adequate representation on Executive Council under a proposed resolution submitted for its consideration.

Resolution A075  proposes to ensure “diverse representation on Executive Council” by including representatives from the provinces but allowing the election of the representatives to be held at the General Convention rather than as part of provincial elections.

“I’m troubled by all elections going through one centralized committee,” said Colorado Deputy Lawrence Hill, a committee member. “I don’t think it’s healthy for the church.” Currently, two representatives to Executive Council are elected by each of the nine provinces.

The resolution was submitted by the Task Force to Study Provinces. The task force was enabled by a resolution to eliminate provinces that was presented at the 78th General Convention. Resolution D011 charged the task force with studying the potential effects of eliminating the provinces and to consider what structures might replace them that would support the ministry and mission of the church.

In its report to the 79th General Convention, the task force said that restructuring how representatives to Executive Council are selected is an effort to refocus the energy of the provinces “on the mission of the church and relax their focus on the polity of the Episcopal Church.”

The Very Rev. Craig Loya, Diocese Nebraska deputy and a member of the committee, said that if representatives are elected at General Convention, “it’s unlikely that anyone from Nebraska would ever be elected. My issue is not who is elected from Province VI but that someone from our neighborhood is elected.”

Several committee members also shared their thoughts about whether the provincial system is even effective anymore.  “Is the current provincial system viable?” asked North Carolina Deputy Joseph Farrell. “If we don’t agree on the concept, I don’t see how we can move forward.”

Earlier in the day, the Governance and Structure Committee held a joint hearing with the Congregational and Diocesan Vitality Committee, which is considering additional resolutions submitted by the Task Force to Study Provinces. The joint hearing was scheduled to allow members of both committees to hear comments on overlapping issues.

During a general discussion, members of both committees grappled with a series of proposed resolutions relating to provinces, including their purpose, representation and funding.

The Governance and Structure committee made no immediate decision on whether to approve those resolutions before it, including Resolution A075. Sub-committees were formed to review the resolutions in more detail and report back to the entire committee on its recommendations.

Other proposals included Resolution A076, which would remove representatives from each province from the process of selecting a location for General Conventions because “approving the site of General Convention does not seem to relate to the mission of the church.”

Resolution A072  asks dioceses over the 2019-21 triennium to “review, consider and align with whichever province best serves their identify and needs.”

In its report, the task force concluded that key advantages to the province system are that they foster collaboration throughout the church, facilitate the preparation of deputies for the General Convention and enable small ministries to find individuals and resources to carry out their mission.  “To remove this structure would jeopardize these advantages,” the task force reported.

The task force said that “the pattern of having some type of structure connecting the diocesan level with the church is important. Rather than invent something new, the recommendation is to look at what already exists and maximize what is working, as well as shifting what may not be working in each of the provinces.”

It also suggested a shift in emphasis from provinces helping to maintain the structure of the church.  “The energy in the system needs to support the mission of the church, not be used in maintaining the structure,” the task force said. “The task force sought to focus the work of the provinces on supporting the mission of the church rather than on maintain parts of the system focused only on the organization of the system itself.”

This shift in emphasis led to the proposed resolution to amend how provincial representatives are elected to Executive Council.

— Mike Patterson is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. He is a member of ENS General Convention reporting team and can be reached at rmp231@gmail.com.

Committee will propose comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 6:38pm

Members of the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169, which is considering revision of the Book of Common Prayer, clap along while singing a hymn before the start of their morning meeting on July 5. Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

The Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169, which is considering resolutions to revise of the Book of Common Prayer, on July 5 voted to propose to General Convention a plan for comprehensive revision of the current 1979 prayer book. The resolution, which will be an amendment to Resolution A068, authorizes the start of a revision process that could culminate in a new prayer book in 2030. 

The resolution was developed by a subcommittee appointed on July 4 to incorporate the process of revision specified in Resolution A068 and incorporating calls for inclusive and expansive language, for God and human beings, which was presented during hearings, also on July 4.

The proposal calls for the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to begin the revision process using the 1979 prayer book as the starting point and to utilize “inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity” in making changes. It also will “incorporate and express understanding, appreciation and care for God’s creation.”

Exempted from the inclusive language revision will be Holy Eucharist Rite 1 and the church’s historical documents printed in the prayer book. In a split between the deputies and bishops, who meet together but vote separately, exempting the Lord’s Prayer from revision was adopted by the bishops but rejected by deputies. 

That means that the deputies’ version will be presented to the House of Deputies when the matter is taken up in a special order of business on July 6 at 4 p.m. If adopted there with that clause intact, the bishops’ version will be debated in the House of Bishops. Reconciliation then would be needed between the two versions.

This resolution carries through the background materials associated with the original A068, which describes a 12-year process of prayer book revision. This includes a comprehensive survey of the liturgies in use in congregations, consultation with other provinces of the Anglican Communion, drafting committees and an overall editor. The plan is to gather data over the next three years, with a complete revision by 2024. 

That proposed book would undergo three years of trial use throughout the Episcopal Church, with a first vote by General Convention in 2027. Because revision of the prayer book is part of the church’s Constitution, adoption of a new book requires votes in two consecutive General Conventions to take effect, placing final approval on the agenda in 2030.

– Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas and is a member of the ENS General Convention reporting team.

Presiding Bishop urges Episcopalians to embrace ‘Way of Love’ for spiritual growth

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 4:58pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivers a sermon at the opening Eucharist at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. Photo: Mike Patterson/Episcopal News Service

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The opening Eucharist  of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church on July 5 included lively music in many styles, communion for thousands of people and a sermon by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calling on members of the Episcopal Church to embrace spiritual practices that can help lead them to a Jesus-centered life.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivers sermon at the opening Eucharist at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. Photo: Mike Patterson/Episcopal News Service

Called “The Way of Love,” the seven practices provide a Rule of Life that all Episcopalians are encouraged to adopt:

  • Turn: pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus
  • Learn: reflect daily on scripture, especially the life and teachings of Jesus
  • Pray: spend time with God in prayer every day
  • Worship: gather in community for worship every week
  • Bless: share one’s faith and find ways to serve other people
  • Go: move beyond one’s comfort to witness to the love of God with words and actions
  • Rest: dedicate time for restoration and wholeness

Curry said that several months ago he had asked a group of bishops, clergy and lay people to meet with him to explore how the church could move more deeply into being the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, a statement that has been the theme for his first three years as presiding bishop. He said he wanted to find a way to “help people throw themselves into the arms of Jesus.”

That group concluded that the Episcopal Church did not need a new program but instead should call upon spiritual practices that for centuries have helped Christians draw closer to God. The result, the Way of Love, is an adaption of monastic traditions that Curry said would help church members “open up the soul and spirit.”

He also encouraged everyone at General Convention to spend time meditating on the life and teachings of Jesus before they take action, including before they get up to speak at a microphone.

Volunteers handed out brochures describing the practices to people as they left the worship hall.

Materials explaining the Way of Love have been posted on the Episcopal Church website. https://www.episcopalchurch.org/explore-way-love

– Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas and is a member of the ENS General Convention reporting team.

‘Now is the time,’ witnesses say, to work harder against sexual abuse, discrimination in the church

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 3:54pm

Oklahoma Deputy Julia Ayala Harris, the proposer of Resolution D016, testifies July 5 to the Committee on Safeguarding and Title IV. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] People of all genders told the Safeguarding and Title IV Committee July 5 that the Episcopal Church must do more to eliminate sexual discrimination and abuse.

“What we witnessed last night was just a beginning,” the Rev. Cynthia Taylor, a Georgia deputy, told the committee, referring to the House of Bishops’ “Liturgy of Listening,” a service of lament and confession centered on stories of sexual abuse and exploitation in the Episcopal Church. “That work is incomplete, my sisters and brothers.”

Taylor said the work is incomplete if “we pat ourselves on the back for being open to discussion of the role of institutional discrimination, harassment and abuse of women.” The church must find a way to continue “not just the conversation but the hard work of seeking the truth, respecting the dignity of all human beings through the restoration of their God-given rights as children of God.”

Since she became the first woman ordained in the Diocese of South Carolina more than 32 years ago, Taylor said she has “had personally experienced gender biases in the form of equality of pay, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and gross misuse of power by ecclesiastical authorities” in clergy discipline cases.

“Things have changed somewhat, but the abuses of the past are not only still with us. There is a sense that by just speaking up about injustices, such injustices have been addressed,” she told the committee. “They have not.”

The committee held an open hearing on Resolution D016, and Resolution D020.

The Committee on Safeguarding and Title IV’s hearing room was crowded for a July 5 hearing on two resolutions pertaining to sexual harassment. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

D016 would have the General Convention “confess our sins of gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms as we understand these sins.” It would call on the Episcopal Church to “turn from the systems of oppression, patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy, and our colonial legacy, among them, and seek to engage in restoration of the dignity of women and reconciliation from past acts.” It would establish task force to help accomplish that work.  The resolution is “meant to address issues related to gender-based violence and discrimination on an overall structural and cultural level,” said Oklahoma Deputy Julia Ayala Harris who proposed the resolution.

Citing the work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church, she said “we find ourselves in the midst of a movement that has already begun within other mainline denominations. This is not uncharted territory.”

D020 would appoint a task force to conduct a survey on “gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms as we understand these sins, which include, but are not limited to, sexual and gender harassment, sexual assault, physical, spiritual, and emotionally abusive behavior, and oppression based on gender.” The results of the survey would be publicly reported online no later than early 2021, the year of the 80th General Convention.

When asked by a committee member if she would accept a move by the committee to combine the two resolutions, Ayala Harris said she had anticipated such a suggestion and had prepared a draft for such a move.

The Rev. Brian Baker, Northern California deputy and member of Executive Council, said, “The church is a hostile work environment for women and it’s just not okay.”

“I am embarrassed that the church is being led by the culture of the #MeToo movement,” he said. “We’re responding because they woke up when we should have woken up first.”

The Very Rev. Craig Loya, a Nebraska deputy, told the committee that he agreed to be an official endorser of D016 because “it is long past time for us as a church to fully account for the ways that we have been complicit in – in ways that we have actively perpetrated – sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment and gender discrimination.”

Rowan Pantalena, a postulant from the Diocese of Connecticut and a self-described “nonbinary trans person,” described for the committee the aftermath of being raped while in seminary. That experience, Panatlena said, showed “how hard it is to speak up.”

“Please consider the difficulty that comes for anyone who speaks about their own experience of sexual harassment and violence, whether perpetuated by people employed by the church or external.”

The members also heard testimony on two memorials, or petitions, to convention, one titled “Women and Social Justice,” which tells convention that “this is our moment to offer healing and to bring our laws closer to the justice and equity that God envisions for us.” The other, “Gathering of Gen X and Millennial Clergy,” asks the church to work for gender equity and “expend resources to create a more equitable church.”

The two D resolutions are among the 24 resolutions proposed by the members of the special House of Deputies Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation appointed in February by the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies’ president. They focus on inclusive theology and language; disparities in pay, hiring, leave and pensions; changes to the Title IV disciplinary process and training; truth and reconciliation; and systemic social justice beyond the church.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

Evangelism committee members pair up to share faith, find Jesus on streets of Austin

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 3:01pm

Three members of the Evangelism and Church Planting Committee met and talked with this group of people who have formed a sidewalk community next to the Episcopal Church-owned parking lot on Trinity Street. The Rev. Alex Montes-Vela, deputy from Texas, stands on the sidewalk with arms crossed. Photo: Frank Logue

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] For a committee assigned to take up resolutions related to evangelism, the activity taking place in JW Marriott Grand Ballroom 8, however worthwhile and, didn’t look much like evangelism.

The committee chairs, acknowledging the limitations of ballroom evangelism, decided to try something different. In addition to leading discussion of how the Episcopal Church will foster evangelism in the coming triennium, the chairs encouraged the bishops and deputies on the Evangelism and Church Planting Committee to practice a bit of street evangelism on the streets of Austin.

“Believing that Jesus is already present and that the gospel is already working itself out in this place today, what we are to go and see is what Jesus is already doing,” Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely told the committee, which he chairs with the Rev. Frank Logue, deputy from Georgia.

“Our role isn’t so much to tell people, this is what you should believe … but really to see what God’s doing and where can we participate in that mission, where can we take part in it,” Knisely said.

When the committee’s business for the day was done, the members paired up on their own and went outside the hotel, two by two, and practiced evangelism in any way the spirit led them.

Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and Delaware delegate Lee Ann Walling talk with Keifred Townsend on Third Street in Austin on July 4. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Some simply spoke to people they met on the street or in coffee shops. Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows teamed up with Lee Ann Walling, a deputy from Delaware, and walked west of the hotel. Baskerville-Burrows, dressed in her purple bishop shirt and collar, said evangelism opportunities already had found her since arriving in Austin.

“I’ve had two people ask me to pray with them just because I’m walking down the street,” she said as Episcopal News Service tagged along for the walk.

Their target destination was a downtown running store, where Baskerville-Burrows hoped to engage in evangelism with fellow runners, though she and Walling also found God on the sidewalk along the way. They soon met a man, Keifred Townsend, 40, who was drawing in a notebook on a bench.

Townsend was wearing black wristbands with the message, “God is big enough.”

“He’s always on time when you need him,” Townsend told Baskerville-Burrows and Walling.

The committee members took time July 5, after their first hearing of the day, to share some stories of their street evangelism from the day before. Baskerville-Burrows and Walling said they also found Jesus at the running store in the form of the store owner, Ryan.

“I made an assumption of the young man in the running store that he was not interested in church,” Walling told her fellow committee members. “He actually evangelized me.” The store owner said he is part of a congregation called Auston Stone Community Church.  and he shared his faith story with his two Episcopal visitors.

Logue was part of a trio of deputies who visited the Episcopal Church-owned parking lot across Trinity Street from St. David’s Episcopal Church. The lot is the future site of the Episcopal Church Archives.

Logue, the Rev. Michael Sells of Navajoland and the Rev. Alex Montes-Vela of Texas met found a group of people congregating at the edge of the lot – “a community on a strip of sidewalk. They had placed a Bible in a tree overseeing their community,” Logue told ENS after the experience.

The Rev. Michael Sells of Navajoland listens to Clifton, a member of the sidewalk community that has formed on Trinity Street. Photo: Frank Logue

One man in a Hawaiian shirt named Clifton was talkative and shared that he was active in the Methodist Church, Sells said, and he and the other Episcopalians learned that this was a close-knit and rather spiritual community of hope, in contrast with other parts of Austin where drugs and violence are all too common.

“I saw a funny dichotomy there,” Sells told the committee. “On the other side is the side of despair … but this side is the side of hope. I think I saw Jesus there.”

Montes-Vela said that he was impressed – and surprised – by the creed followed by this community living on society’s margins. They picked up their trash. They didn’t ask anyone for money. They defied stereotypes that Montes-Vela admitted he initially brought to their interaction.

“I think that Jesus showed me, through them, that I could not do that,” Montes-Vela said.

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

79th General Convention digest for July 5

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 2:45pm

Bishops and deputies pray in a corner of the Austin Convention Center for the victims of those who have committed suicide with a gun. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] Much happens each day during General Convention. In addition to Episcopal News Service’s primary coverage, here are some additional news items from July 5 and the days leading up to the first legislative day of the 79th convention gathering.

Praying for the victims of gun violence

Just before the House of Bishops and House of Deputies officially convened for the first time, some members of Bishops United Against Gun Violence held a prayer service in a hallway of the Austin Convention Center. It was the first of nine planned sessions, each praying for the victims of a specific type of gun violence: suicide, domestic violence, urban shootings, school shootings and other mass shootings, police shootings, children shooting children, accidental shootings, shootings during the commission of a crime and gang-related shootings.

Bishops United Against Gun Violence has scheduled a public witness event at Brush Square Park at 9:30 a.m. July 8. Speakers will include Philip and April Schentrup, Episcopalians from Florida whose daughter, Carmen, was one of the 17 students and educators killed by a gunman Feb. 14 at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Abigail Zimmerman, a ninth-grader and Episcopalian from Texas, also will speak. She co-led a school walkout in March in response to the Parkland, Florida, massacre.

– Mary Frances Schjonberg

Each day, Bishops United will distribute 96 small crosses to symbolize the 96 people who die from gunfire each day in the US. We ask you to wear the cross during #GC79, and pray for victims of gun violence. Join us at 7:45 in the solar atrium, 1st floor, convention center. #GC79 pic.twitter.com/cVOXcFrRHK

— The Cross Lobby (@TheCrossLobby) July 5, 2018

The running of the Michaels

Some deputies named Michael head to the House of Bishops on July 5 to tell Presiding Bishop Michael Curry that their house is ready for business. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president, decided to fulfill in a unique way the house’s job of reporting to its colleagues in the House of Bishops that the deputies were organized and ready to conduct the business of the church. She sent a delegation of deputies named Michael, 11 men and one woman, to inform to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. They were all sporting navy blue baseball caps emblazoned with “Michael” in white letters on the front of the crown.

The Michael deputies gave Presiding Bishop Michael Curry one of their Michael hats. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

House of Deputies Sergeant-at-Arms Beth Rowley led the group to the House of Bishops’ hall. The bishops stood to welcome them. After the group made its way to the dais and addressed Curry and the house, they presented Curry with his own hat.

“I am glad to know that at least one house of this house is organized,” Curry said as the deputies left the house to the strains of “Michael, row the boat ashore.”

— Mary Frances Schjonberg

Former Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori takes up committee duties

The Social Justice and International Policy Committee kicked off its work at this General Convention with an organizational meeting July 3 featuring one of those tried-and-true welcoming exercises, the circle of introductions. But there was one woman among the bishops and deputies who arguably needed no introduction.

Former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori introduces herself July 3 during an organizational meeting of the Social Justice and International Policy Committee. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Assisting Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is on the committee roster as representing the Diocese of San Diego, where she has served since 2017, but she is better known as the Episcopal Church’s previous presiding bishop, and the first woman in that role.

Jefferts Schori didn’t mention her past role as churchwide leader during committee introductions, though she said she’s had the opportunity to travel around the world and advocate for peace, including in the Middle East, and she emphasized the need to engage people in “deep conversation” on such issues.

Several resolutions relating to Israeli and Palestinian relations are being discussed by the committee, with an open hearing on those resolutions scheduled for 7:30 a.m. July 6.

— David Paulsen

Bishops lament and confess the church’s role in sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 9:41am

Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, left; Central Pennsylvania Bishop Audrey Scanlon, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel and House of Bishops Vice President and El Camino Real Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves pray July 4 during the House of Bishop’s “Liturgy of Listening” session at General Convention in Austin, Texas. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] In a hushed worship space in the Austin Convention Center late in the afternoon of July 4, bishops of the Episcopal Church stood and collectively offered laments and confession for the church’s role in sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse in a service called a “Liturgy of Listening.”

The service featured 12 stories – six from women and six from men – from victims of sexual misconduct perpetrated by someone in the church. These were among 40 stories submitted by people in May in response to a bishops’ request for reflections from those hurt by the church.

House of Bishops Vice President and El Camino Real Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves reads one of the 12 stories that formed the backbone of the “Liturgy of Listening” July 4. Standing at the altar with her are Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Diocese of Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Each story was read by a bishop of the same gender as the victim, in first-person accounts of what had happened to them and how the church’s response had failed them. The stories included a church employee made uncomfortable by lewd comments from the male rector; an ordinand placed in a sexually awkward position by her bishop; a young man seduced by his priest’s wife; a woman raped by a priest from whom she was receiving spiritual direction; a choir boy subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse. One included a plea that bishops care for all vulnerable people in their dioceses and “take seriously the plague of sexual misconduct that affects our branch of the Jesus Movement.”

The service was planned by Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, who chairs the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response to #MeToo Planning Team. In remarks in Episcopal News Service in late June, she said the service was designed to help set a framework for General Convention’s consideration of resolutions dealing with sexual misconduct, exploitation and gender disparity. These sins occur “because we aren’t seeing the image of Christ in one another,” she told ENS.

This format was chosen, Duncan-Probe said, because “Episcopalians believe in the transformational power of liturgy.”

Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe speaks to attendees before the July 4 “Liturgy of Listening.” She chaired the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response to #MeToo Planning Team.
Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

After the service opened with two reflective songs, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said that “the Church has failed her people.” He said that as successors to the apostles, bishops “hold a particular responsibility to acknowledge the past and help the church move forward.” He said the service would be “a sacred container” for stories of abuse that never should have happened. He added, “There is pain in these stories, there is courage in the people who have offered them.” He then called on bishops and the entire church to honor the courage and vulnerability of victims by being committed to the work of repentance and reconciliation.

Several hundred people attended the 90-minute service, and almost 1,000 others watched via livestream on the General Convention Media Hub.

Planners also had teams of people available to provide emotional or spiritual support to anyone who needed it. As the service ended in silence, some people wiped away tears and others hugged those nearby.

— Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas and is a member of the ENS General Convention reporting team.

Broadening the Church Calendar and Commemorations

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 7:50pm

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] Committee 12, the Legislative Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music, held its first open hearing the morning of July 4 before the official opening of the 79thGeneral Convention. General Convention mandates that this legislative committee “receives and proposes Resolutions on the Book of Common Prayer, liturgy and music of this Church,” and today’s open hearing focused on revising the Church Calendar of commemorations, and the request to authorize the use of “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018,” the proposed revised edition.

This committee began working on the big issues around calendar inclusion criteria, definitions and servanthood early in General Convention, according to bishop co-chair the Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander of Atlanta, to have the time it needs to fully explore the issues surrounding its mandate.

And as the Rev. Susan Anslow Williams of Michigan, committee co-chair representing the House of Deputies, put it on July 3 during the committee’s first gathering, the work of this committeeis “more than deciding who is in and who is out,” referring to the Church’s commemorative calendar and published resources.

Those who signed up before the 8 a.m. open hearing could speak to one of the nine resolutions regarding the Church Calendar and “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” that are before the committee. These include A065, which authorizes “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018” for optional use by churches and the collection of feedback on the resource – not a trial use, but close.

Resolutions also request the inclusion of new commemorations, from A066 to add to “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018” Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray, and Florence Li Tim-Oi, and D012to add the Four Chaplains of the USAT Dorchester to the Church Calendar.

It was D012 that garnered the most attention at the open hearing. Mr. Louis Cavaliere, board chair of The Chapel of Four Chaplains in Philadelphia, spoke on behalf of including the Dorchester Four, who he said embody “holy innocence,” on the Church Calendar. In 1943 the Army troop transport Dorchester was sunk off the coast of Greenland. The four U.S. Army chaplains, all from different faiths, gave up their life jackets and perished, saving the lives of four soldiers. “Behind every person who perished or survived that sinking is a story. And there are four people whose stories continued because of the four chaplains who gave over their life jackets.”

Seeking clarity

A criterion for inclusion on the calendar is two generations or roughly 50 years since the death of the candidate. The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in the last triennium recommended expanding the criteria to include, for example, non-Christian individuals who exemplify the Gospel, such as the Jewish chaplain of the Dorchester Four.

The committee is also working through how to increase inclusivity and diversity among those commemorated. One committee member suggested that excluding words of power, such a patriarch and matriarch, for language of servanthood.

Questions around the calendars – of which there are multiple versions at this time – arose during the meeting. Another committee member observed that having different criteria for different calendars is adding to the confusion. “Holy Women, Holy Men” and “Great Cloud of Witnesses” were both developed to widen the inclusivity of the sanctoral calendar but have specific criteria for inclusion.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Hirschfeld of New Hampshire noted that there is an ecology in the Church that allows for people of diverse backgrounds to “come to the table.” People in New Hampshire have asked him “Why isn’t Mahatma Gandhi in ‘Lesser Feasts and Fasts’? It’s because he wasn’t a Christian. And they respond, ‘But we welcome non-Christians to communion.” The bishop continued saying that the Church has a culture of inclusivity that is not reflected in the current criteria of “Lesser Feasts and Fasts.”

Anslow Williams said “the criteria used in the past (from 2009) is still in effect. Are these persons lasting models of Christian exemplary living?” While the committee does review recommendations for new candidates, “looking at the larger criteria” is the committee’s focus.

Alexander added “The work of the SCLM following 2015 is a commentary on the existing criteria.”

Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music committee is responsible for revisions to and the simplification of the Episcopal Church’s sanctoral calendar, and revisions to the Book of Occasional Services, among other liturgical functions. Committee 12 has formed two sub-committees, one for Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the other for Book of Occasional Services.  A General Convention Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169 has been formed to focus on the revisions to the Prayer Book and the marriage liturgy. Known as Committee 13, this group is meeting separately from Committee 12.

– Sharon Tillman is a freelance writer for Episcopal News Service at the 79th General Convention.

Committee plans further study of small congregation resolution

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 7:33pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Christian Formation and Discipleship legislative committee on July 4 formed a sub-committee to further study a consolidated resolution that proposes the creation of a referral hub and provide additional resources for clergy and lay leadership development in small congregations.

Consolidated Resolution A022 was submitted to the committee by the Task Force on Clergy Leadership Formation in Small Congregations. The revised resolution combines Resolutions A022-26 into one proposal and reduces the initial budget request to $300,000 from $900,000.

Full ENS coverage of the 79th General Convention is available here.

Consolidated Resolution A022 asks that the 79thGeneral Convention, meeting in Austin, Texas, direct that a Theological Education Networking Team (TENT) be established to serve as a networking referral hub for existing and specially developed resources for the discernment, theological education and formation of clergy and licensed lay vocations in small congregations, which comprise 69 percent of Episcopal churches.

The team would be available by telephone and email to individuals, clergy, commissions on ministry, discernment committees, congregations and dioceses and would eventually create a website of curated resources for users to evaluate the suitability of approaches, strategies and materials for their particular needs and contexts.

The resolution grew out of the task force, which was formed three years ago at the 78thGeneral Convention to “develop a plan for quality formation for clergy in small congregations that is affordable, theologically reflective and innovative.”

The task force concluded that there is “already a wealth of resources available for leadership formation” from many different cultural and theological orientations, yet there is a lack of awareness of the existence of the resources, staff to access them and a “siloing” effect that hinders the sharing of resources throughout the Episcopal Church.

Availability of “appropriate and culturally-sensitive vocational discernment and formation materials and strategies for clergy leaders called from ethnic minority communities” was also found to be lacking.  And “there is also a clear need for greater availability of suitable resources in Spanish,” the task force found.

The legislative committee heard a half-dozen speakers voice their support of the task force’s proposed resolution. “We welcome a fellow network joining us in our work. We support the intent of this,” said William Campbell, executive director of Forma, an organization that provides professional opportunities and resources to clergy and lay leaders in the Episcopal Church.

The committee wrestled over lack of specifics in the resolution, such as the source of funding, who the team reported to, the amount of time team members would spend on the project and whether the educational resources were already available and could lead to the duplication of efforts.

Committee member Kay Bowman-Harvey, a deputy from Oklahoma, expressed concern that the consolidated resolution was “way too cumbersome” and that she needed a “better clarification of what we’re actually looking at.”

“I think it needs some shape,” said the Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa.

Another concern was the lack of emphasis placed on developing lay leadership in small congregations. However, the Rev. Susanna Singer explained to the committee that the primary charge given the task force was to focus on clergy rather than lay leadership. Singer served as chair of the task force and is also associate professor of ministry development at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

The sub-committee’s job will be to review consolidated Resolution A022, address concerns expressed by committee members and return with any recommended changes. The legislative committee also asked the sub-committee to review Resolution A055 to determine whether it should be incorporated into an omnibus resolution with Resolution A022 or continue to stand on its own.

Resolution A055 would have the 79thGeneral Convention “invite the multicultural ministers” of the church to further develop “channels and pathways for sharing he gifts of ministry that exist in abundance in our Black, Latino/Hispanic, Asian American and Native communities with the wider church.”

In discussing the resolutions, the committee expressed an interest in weighing how to balance the various funding requests coming before it during the General Convention.

– Mike Patterson is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. He is a member of ENS General Convention reporting team and can be reached at rmp231@gmail.com.

Episcopal Church of Cuba, Episcopal Church reunification discussed

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 7:30pm

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] After more than five decades of separation, the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church of Cuba may once again unite.

Reunification would not only be good for the churches, but also for the country, said the Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio, during a July 4 open hearing of The Episcopal Church in Cuba Committee held at the Hilton. “I believe, whether it’s in five, 10 or 20 years, God will see that all good things happen for us,” said Delgado, through an interpreter.

The 79th General Convention officially gets underway with legislative sessions July 5 at the Austin Convention Center and runs through July 13.

Resolution A052 calls for general convention “to welcome with joy the request of the sisters and brothers of the Episcopal Church in Cuba to reunite with the Episcopal Church”; for diocese and congregations to establish relationships with the Cuban church; to provide financial support for the church and bring clergy into the Church Pension Fund;  he formation of a three-year interim body to accompany the Diocese of Cuba as it fully integrates into the Episcopal Church.

During her testimony, Delgado mentioned the diocese’s scarcity of resources, it’s crumbling infrastructure and its inability to compensate clergy, and the isolation both the church and she and previous bishops have felt. But, she said, despite the church’s isolation and the fact that it functions in a largely secular society, it is a part of the Jesus Movement.

Should reunification happen, the Cuban church wishes to join Province II, which includes dioceses in New York, New Jersey, Haiti and the Virgin Islands.

Rena Turnham, who is a member of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota’s Commission on Cuba Ministry and has observed the church’s ministry firsthand, testified to the church’s ability to provide for people in need despite having few resources. The church, she said, often steps in to provide assistance when the government cannot do so.

Ernesto Medina, an alternate from the Diocese of Nebraska and who also has visited the Cuban church, testified to the strength of the church’s laity.

“I actually think the Episcopal Church cannot survive without the church in Cuba,” said Medina. “I have never seen such lay empowerment; that’s a skillset that this church does not have.”

Medina suggest it be written in the resolution that the Cuban church share its method for empowering lay members with the Episcopal Church.

Archbishop of Canada Fred Hiltz, who has served on the Metropolitan Council of Cuba for 11 years, said the Episcopal Church in Cuba and its bishop would be less isolated should the churches reunite and that the Episcopal Church stands to gain a strong partner in ministry.

“What awaits the Episcopal Church is the receiving, in my opinion, of a diocese deeply committed to the [Anglican] Marks of Mission, though poor financially, extraordinarily generous.”

The committee formed four subcommittees to study a covenant committee, constitutional and canonical issues with reunification, pension and Resolution A052. While the committee held its hearing, a second resolution, D060, Establish a Covenant with the Diocese of Cuba was filed.

The Episcopal Church of Cuba is an autonomous diocese of the Anglican Communion under the authority of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba. The council is chaired by the primates of the Anglican churches of Canada and the West Indies and the Episcopal Church. The council has overseen the church in Cuba since it separated from the U.S.-based Episcopal Church in 1967.

The Episcopal Church of Cuba traces its origins back to an Anglican presence beginning in 1901. Today there are some 46 congregations and missions serving 10,000 members and the wider communities. During the 1960s, Fidel Castro’s government began cracking down on religion, jailing religious leaders and believers, and it wasn’t until the Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba, the first ever visit by a Roman Catholic pope to the island, that the government began a move back toward tolerance of religion.

The Cuban Revolution, led by Castro, began in 1953 and lasted until President Fulgencio Batista was forced from power in 1959. Batista’s anti-communist, authoritarian government was replaced with a socialist state, which in 1965 aligned itself with the communist party. In 2008 Raul Castro replaced as president his ailing brother, who died in November 2016.

In April, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez was elected president of Cuba, ending decades of Castro-led rule. Díaz-Canel had served as vice president since 2013 and was expected to become president.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama restored full diplomatic relations with Cuba, and loosening travel and trade restrictions. The Trump administration later tightened those restrictions.

– Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

Church leaders set tone for General Convention in rousing welcome to bishops, deputies

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 7:19pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry addresses the joint opening session of the 79 th General Convention in Austin, Texas, on July 4, 2018. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The presiding officers of the Episcopal Church delivered a rousing welcome July 4 to the hundreds of bishops and deputies who have gathered in Texas’ capital city this week for the 79th General Convention.

The remarks by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, each lasted about 20 minutes and set the stage for an active 10 days at the Austin Convention Center and surrounding hotels. Committees began holding hearings earlier in the day on some resolutions, though the legislative session doesn’t officially convene until July 5.

Curry’s and Jennings’ remarks highlighted the work of the church in the past three years while also directly referencing current events that have drawn the church’s response and will be discussed by General Convention, most notably immigration and the Trump administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy on border security.

“I’ve seen Episcopalians stand with others no one else would stand with,” Curry said. “I’ve seen Episcopalians stand with immigrants. I’ve seen us stand with refugees. I’ve seen us stand up for justice, not in the name of secular values but in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of love.”

Jennings urged the Episcopalians gathered in the large convention hall to not let themselves remain comfortable in their positions of relative privilege when others are suffering. She set the tone with a reading from Deuteronomy: God “loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

“On this day, when some of us are perhaps most inclined to feel at home in the United States, the Bible tells us not to get so comfortable,” Jennings said. “We were once strangers. It’s possible that we could be strangers again one day.”

The emphasis on immigration and welcoming refugees coincides with plans for bishops and deputies to travel July 8, after Sunday worship, to an immigration detention facility about 40 minutes from Austin for a prayer service there. General Convention has assigned 10 resolutions to its committees so far under the topic of immigration,  and more could be added by the July 6 filing deadline.

Resolution A178 specifically calls for an end to federal policies that separate migrant children from their parents. President Donald Trump, after facing intense pressure over the family separations, signed an executive order in June to keep migrant families together in detention facilities, though questions remain about how this policy change will be carried out and how separated families will be reunited.

At the welcome gathering on July 4 of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry each addressed the bishops and deputies. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

“We cannot lose sight of the parents and the children on the border who have been torn apart by our government,” Jennings said in urging the bishops and deputies to take the immigration resolutions seriously. “We need to be uncomfortable enough to remember these are issues of life and death.”

The issue of immigration also loomed large at a news conference earlier in the day with Curry, Jennings and the Rev. Michael Barlowe, the church’s executive officer and secretary of General Convention.

Jennings hoped General Convention would provide a “counterpoint to a vicious, vindictive interpretation to what it means to be a Christian.” Curry referenced Genesis to underscore that the church is basing its advocacy in scripture.

“We start from a premise that … all people are created in God’s image and likeness,” Curry said. “We must structure our social arrangements and structure our lives in ways that respect the dignity of every human being.”

Curry was also asked about his sermon at the royal wedding in May and what lasting effect it might have on the church’s success in evangelism.

“What I really did pray… one, I didn’t want to mess it up. This was a pretty big congregation,” he said. “But the second, that I could actually say something that would represent the good news of Jesus Christ. In our culture, there are versions and representations that don’t look anything like Jesus.”

An estimated 10,000 people are expected to be in Austin at some point this week and next week for General Convention, whether they be bishops, deputies, church employees, volunteers, exhibitors or others interested in participating somehow in the conversations underway. The centerpiece of the two weeks will be a revival event July 7 at the Palmer Events Center with Curry preaching, followed by a barbecue hosted by the Diocese of Texas.

The excitement heading into this General Convention drew from many sources, from Curry’s reputation as the church’s charismatic “chief evangelism officer” to the spirited debate expected on issues ranging from prayer book updates to policy toward Israel and Palestine. There has been much talk, too, about how the church should respond to concerns raised by the #MeToo movement about sexual harassment and abuse in society and in the church, and the House of Bishops was holding a listening session on those issues in the evening July 4.

“The energy’s high as we begin General Convention, and hope is in the air,” Jennings said at the morning news conference.

That energy filled the convention hall in the afternoon as Curry boomed through his welcoming “presentation” – “this is not a sermon,” he said, to knowing laughs – his voice rising and falling as it echoed off the walls. Bishops and deputies sat with their deputations next to poles labeled with the names of their dioceses, similar to a political party’s convention.

Bishops and deputies gathered with their diocesan deputations for the opening remarks in the convention hall in Austin, Texas, on July 4. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

Curry began with an extended metaphor centered around Starbucks, suggesting that an Episcopal Church that forgets its roots is like a coffee chain that forgets it’s about coffee, not cheese goods and other food products. “My brothers and sisters, we are not in the baking cheese business, we’re in the coffee business, and the name of that coffee is Jesus of Nazareth.”

But it was his reference to the Independence Day holiday and to the origins of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that provided a more profound motif to convey how the Episcopal Church marches on, in service of the Lord.

“I’ve seen the movement of Jesus among us in the church,” Curry said, citing Episcopalians’ relief efforts after hurricanes struck Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Florida and Texas. He said he saw it in how Episcopalians stood with other Christians against the hate groups that marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. He said he saw it in the Episcopalians who rallied behind the Standing Rock Sioux as they sought to protect their drinking water from an oil pipeline.

“God’s truth, this movement, is marching on,” he said.

Jennings opened her remarks by alluding to the popularity of Curry’s sermons and joking that she occupied “what is widely acknowledged to be one of the least coveted speaking spots in all of Christendom, the person who comes after Michael Curry.”

Jennings, too, spoke forcefully to the crowd about its duty to follow the way of Jesus.

“We are embarking on hard and holy work in the next 10 days. We are going to talk about some of the issues that cut close to our heart,” she said. “Let us do our work as strangers and sojourners bound for kingdom of God.”

Among the other speakers at the welcoming event were National Episcopal Church Women President Lisa Towle and Church Pension Group President Mary Kate Wold. Barlowe served as master of ceremonies.

“We are delighted to be in the Diocese of Texas,” Barlowe said, a sentiment he has repeated often this week, with slight variations. “You all have welcomed us with legendary Texas hospitality.”

Barlowe introduced Diocese of Texas Bishop C. Andrew Doyle, who said Episcopalians in Texas were proud to stand with the church on border issues and against the epidemic of gun violence in the country. And Doyle mentioned that Houston, Texas, hosted the General Convention in 1970, when women first were allowed to serve as deputies.

Doyle also gave the convention a taste of Texas talk as it pertains to the Jesus Movement.

“Texas is big, and just about whatever you wish to tell us about, we’re going to listen politely, and then we will tell you about how there’s one bigger, larger, stronger, stranger, more bizarre or weird than whatever you have,” he said. “Texans love to imagine crazy, big ideas like the Jesus Movement, and we are glad to be part of the very big Episcopal Church.”

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

Creation care committee begins its legislative work

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 6:35pm

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] Advocating for a fair and ambitious climate agreement, a carbon fee and planting trees in commemoration of the Paris Agreement topped the agenda July 4 during the Environmental Stewardship and Care of Creation Committee’s first open hearing at the JW Marriott.

The 79th General Convention officially gets underway with legislative sessions July 5 at the Austin Convention Center and runs through July 13.

The Rev. Leon Sampson, a deacon and deputy from the Episcopal Church of Navajoland, spoke to the importance of Resolution C008, which calls for the further advancement of the House of Bishops’ 2011 commitment “ ‘to advocate for a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty’ by making every effort to fully and completely participate in future meetings of the United Nations Conference of Parties on Climate Change as an active, faithful and engaged voice for all of God’s good earth.”

Bishops addressed the earth’s unfolding environmental crisis during a meeting in Quito, Ecuador, in a pastoral teaching to the church in which they said:

“The mounting urgency of our environmental crisis challenges us at this time to confess ‘our self-indulgent appetites and ways,’ ‘our waste and pollution of God’s creation,” and “our lack of concern for those who come after us’ (Ash Wednesday Liturgy, Book of Common Prayer, p. 268). It also challenges us to amend our lives and to work for environmental justice and for more environmentally sustainable practices.

“Christians cannot be indifferent to global warming, pollution, natural resource depletion, species extinctions, and habitat destruction, all of which threaten life on our planet. Because so many of these threats are driven by greed, we must also actively seek to create more compassionate and sustainable economies that support the well-being of all God’s creation.”

Further extraction of natural resources in Bears Ears – which extends into Navajoland – and other proposed oil, gas and mining projects in Navajoland provide much-needed jobs, but also threaten people’s health and the environment, said Sampson.

In December 2017, the Trump administration announced it would reduce by 2 million acres two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. The shrinking of the two monuments in Utah opens up the possibility of oil, gas and other natural resource development and represents the largest reduction of federal land protection in U.S. history.

In April, a Native American advocacy group appealed the Trump administration’s decision to the United Nations, claiming desecration of a sacred site is a human rights violation.

Most of the environmental stewardship and care of creation resolutions are listed here. In September 2016, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry identified care for creation as one of the three pillars, along with reconciliation and evangelism, of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.

The committee called on the Rev. Melanie Mullen, the church’s director of reconciliation, justice and creation care, to testify to Resolution A013 as to the need of an officer to oversee the stewardship of creation. The officer would oversee the Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation’s grant program.

The 78th General Convention created an Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation during its meeting in Salt Lake City in 2015. It took some months for the advisory council to convene, but once it did it quickly began a small grant program, awarding 40 grants to projects throughout the Episcopal Church and it oversees three environmental justice sites.

Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers Director Bill Slocumb spoke in favor of Resolution A010, which calls for planting “Paris Groves” at each of the church’s 85 camps and conference centers. The groves – planted with native tree species – would “serve as a visible witness to the significance of the Paris Accord and do the practical work of sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere.” The resolution also calls on General Convention to commend all Episcopal Schools, Camps and Conference Centers in making environmental stewardship and care of creation key components of formation in the 2019-2021 triennium. It also asks for Episcopalians’ support and that each person reaffirm their baptismal vows and plant a tree in one of the groves.

Emily Hopkins of the Diocese of California testified to Resolution C020, which calls for the Church to “support a national tax on carbon-based fossil fuels based on the Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which would impose a carbon fee on all fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases at the point where they first enter the economy; align U.S. emissions with the physical constraints identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to avoid irreversible climate change; and use this carbon fee through a trust fund to make equal monthly per-person dividend payments to all American households.”

The committee suggested modifying the resolution’s title, making it clear that it is a “fee” not a “tax.”

Hopkins acknowledged that the Province IX dioceses located in the Caribbean and South America would not benefit from a carbon fee and dividend; she acknowledged the contribution of resource-rich states to the building of the United States and the need for extractive dependent states to be assisted in their transition to clean energy.

Over the years, General Convention has passed more than 50 resolutions addressing environmental stewardship and creation care. This year, the Advisory Council on the Stewardship of Creation submitted 14 resolutions (read its Blue Book report here), many strengthening previous resolutions, some addressing more contemporary concerns.

– Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

Gun violence, voting rights, social safety net discussed

Wed, 07/04/2018 - 5:45pm

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The Social Justice and United States Policy Committee kicked off its hearings at the 79thGeneral Convention on July 4, taking up resolutions relating to gun violence, the social safety net and voting rights while

Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton speaks in favor of a gun violence resolution July 4 at a hearing of the Social Justice and United States Policy Committee, held in a ballroom of the JW Marriott in Austin, Texas. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

leaving resolutions on immigration for an upcoming hearing.

 

The morning hearings, held in a ballroom at the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Austin, covered eight resolutions and lasted about an hour. More than 15 people spoke to the resolutions, and most of their voices were in favor. The committee next will meet to modify the resolutions as needed and decide whether to send some or all on for full legislative consideration.

“This is a wonderful committee that’s ready to go prayerfully to work,” Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple of North Carolina said to draw the day’s hearings to a close.

Another eight resolutions relating to immigration were assigned to the committee and presumably will generate even more debate. Those resolutions will all be taken up at the committee’s hearing scheduled for 8 a.m. July 7.

The committee opened its July 4 hearing by inviting all in attendance to join in singing a hymn, “We All Are One in Mission,” followed by an opening prayer.

Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton, who was due to attend another one of the morning’s meetings, spoke on behalf of Bishops United Against Gun Violence in favor of Resolution B005, recognizing gun violence as a public health issue.

“We are in an epidemic,” Sutton said after highlighting some statistics showing the sheer volume of deaths in the United States due to guns. “Think of the cost to our families, our communities, our health systems.”

Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnson, a member of the committee, spoke in support of Resolution B002, a measure he proposed to engage the church in working against government and institutional corruption.

Few people would argue with the evils of corruption, Johnston said, but his resolution seeks to push Episcopalians to actively speak out again it at all levels, and in this country and countries around the world.

“Corruption is danger evil,’ he said. “For far too long, religious communities and churches have not spoken up to challenge corruption and to work alongside other partners in the global transparency movement. … As Episcopalians, we have an obligation to root out corruption where we see it.”

A couple of people spoke in favor of D013, which seeks to end the loophole in the 13thAmendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolished slavery except for prison labor. There also were passionate pleas for passage of two resolutions targeting voter suppression and gerrymandered legislative districts (C047).

Harold Patrick, an alternate deputy from Southern Ohio, who spoke on several resolutions, emphasized the hearing was happening on the United States’ Independence Day, and the voting-related resolutions are “really about the fundamental right that we all have to vote, and to vote equally and properly.”

Patrick and others provided firsthand witness to the need to repair the United States’ deteriorating social safety net, as called for by Resolution C041. Patrick spoke from his experience as an affordable-housing developer. Several young adult members of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship spoke about poverty-related issues they have worked on, including education and health care.

One resolution that wasn’t warmly welcomed was C015, which calls for stricter punishment for manufacture and possession of guns without serial numbers.

Hodges-Copple noted that the resolution was submitted by the Diocese of Bethlehem without explanation. After a member of the Official Youth Presence read info from the diocese’s website, Stan Runnels chose to speak against the resolution, saying it sounded like the measures referenced would simply put more people in prison, and the lack of an explanation leaves the committee with little reason to believe otherwise.

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

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