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Tax exemption for clergy housing allowance ruled unconstitutional – again

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 2:05pm

[Episcopal News Service] A federal district judge in Wisconsin has once again ruled that the Internal Revenue Service’s clergy parsonage exemption is unconstitutional, a decision that ultimately could have profound financial effects on many Episcopal clergy members and congregations.

Judge Barbara Crabb, sitting in Madison in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, said recently that “the plain language of the statute, its legislative history and its operation in practice all demonstrate a preference for ministers over secular employees.”

She rejected the defendants’ claim that the exemption was an effort by Congress to treat ministers fairly and avoid religious entanglement, and was part of a larger effort by Congress to help employees with special housing needs.

“A desire to alleviate financial hardship on taxpayers is a legitimate purpose, but it is not a secular purpose when Congress eliminates the burden for a group made up of solely religious employees but maintains it for nearly everyone else,” Crabb wrote.

“A reasonable observer,” she said, “would view the statute as an endorsement of religion.”

The judge gave all parties until Oct. 30 to suggest what remedies would be appropriate, based on her ruling.

Freedom from Religion Foundation leaders Annie Laurie Gaylor, Anne Nicol Gaylor and Dan Barker have claimed for years that the IRS “parsonage exemption” violates the U.S. Constitution by providing preferential tax benefits to those whom the agency defines as “ministers of the gospel.” (Anne Nichol Gaylor has since died and been replaced in the suit by the personal representative of her estate, Ian Gaylor.)

The plaintiffs say that although the foundation gives them a housing allowance, IRS rules deny their attempts to claim the related expenses under the parsonage exemption because they were not deemed “ministers of the gospel.” Annie Laurie Gaylor is a lay person, as was Anne Nicol Gaylor. Barker, the foundation’s public relations director, is an ordained minister who the foundation says “gradually outgrew his religious beliefs.”

The case, originally titled Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Geithner and Shulman, was filed in September 2011. The original suit named then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and IRS head Douglas Shulman as defendants. The current filing replaced them with their successors, Steve Mnuchin and John Koskinen.

There are also intervenor-defendants: the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and a minister of one of its churches, the Chicago Embassy Church and its pastor, and Holy Cross Anglican Church in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and its rector, the Rev. Patrick Malone.

The court’s decision, which will be litigated for several years and no doubt reach the U.S. Supreme Court, does not apply to clergy who live in church-owned housing, such as rectories. Those clerics can continue to exclude the fair rental value of that home from their income for tax purposes under Section 107(1) of the federal tax code.

The employers of most but not all clerics who do not live in church-owned housing designate a portion of a cleric’s salary as a housing allowance. However, if such clerics plan to seek the IRS-allowed parsonage exemption, they must have their employers officially declare (by way of a resolution passed by the organization’s governing body) a specific amount of money that the cleric intends to claim on his or her taxes in the following year.

If the cleric can later document the amount of eligible expenses, he or she may deduct them from their taxable income. Those expenses include things such as furnishings, maintenance and repair, and certain supplies. For instance, if the enabling resolution sets the amount at $10,000 but the cleric can only document $9,000 in allowed expenses, then only the smaller amount can be deducted. If the cleric had $11,000 in allowed expenses, only $10,000 can be deducted. There is no tax penalty for overestimating the parsonage allowance.

Retired and disabled clergy can continue to claim the annual exemption and, in fact, all retirement benefits from the Church Pension Fund come to recipients with the IRS-required housing allowance designation.

More information about how parsonage allowances work is available in the current Church Pension Group tax guide on pages 12-16.

The federal government appealed Crabb’s original 2013 ruling, and the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated her judgment on the grounds that plaintiffs did not have standing to sue because they had not “personally claimed and been denied the exemption.” In her latest ruling, Crabb said the IRS, the foundation and its representatives all agreed that this had since happened and seemed likely to happen again.

“The practical effect of any ruling will be delayed until the appeals are exhausted, which could take several years,” the Church Alliance – a coalition of 38 church benefit programs that serve mainline Protestant denominations, two branches of Judaism and Catholic dioceses, schools and institutions said in a statement on its website. The group filed an amicus curiae brief when the federal government appealed Crabb’s first ruling

“As the litigation proceeds, the Church Alliance will assess the viability of legislative options to remedy, if possible, or mitigate the impacts on clergy retirement and welfare benefits of such a ruling,” the group said.

Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that the exclusions allowed to ministers for housing costs amounts to $3.8 billion between 2013 and 2017.

Although CPG has also predicted that the lawsuit will be litigated for years, it warned in its latest tax guide that “ministers and churches should be aware that the housing allowance remains under attack, and one day may be invalidated.”

If that happens, CPG said two things must be done immediately. Because ministers covered by the disputed tax code section “will experience an immediate increase in income taxes,” they would need to increase their quarterly estimated tax payments to avoid an underpayment penalty. Most clerics make such quarterly payments because the IRS treats them as self-employed. CPG also noted that “many churches will want to increase ministers’ compensation to offset the financial impact.” Such an increase could be phased in over a period of years to minimize the impact on the church, CPG suggested.

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

LA diocese, congregation still at odds over disputed St. James property

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 2:03pm

[Episcopal News Service] The dispute over the St. James the Great property on Lido Island in Newport Beach, California, that is at the heart of disciplinary proceedings against Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno has taken several recent turns.

Late on Oct. 10, Los Angeles Bishop Coadjutor John Taylor and the Rev. Anne Nyback told the diocese that an anticipated sale of the property had fallen through.

“This event, we believe, gives our diocesan community a renewed opportunity for careful discernment about our mission and ministry in south Orange County,” the two wrote.

They pledged to “do all we can pastorally, logistically, and financially to assist the St. James congregation should it wish to regain mission status in the diocese.” However, that effort will not include an immediate return of the congregation’s pastor, the Rev. Cindy Evans Voorhees, to lead worship in the church she designed.

“After a suitable period of discernment and planning, we will reopen the church as a bishop’s chapel, with supply, or guest, clergy invited to conduct Sunday services,” Taylor and Nyback wrote. “It will be open to all in the community who wish to attend and glorify and serve our God in Christ.”

In a statement released the next day, members of St. James said they were “disappointed but not surprised” by the announcement. They said that “this is not what reconciliation looks like.”

“The congregation, still meeting in exile in the Civic Center community room, would like to return to its church,” they wrote, adding that the congregation had recently offered to match the potential buyer’s offer and to pay any reasonable costs associated with breaking the deal.

“Bishop Taylor claimed that he could not even discuss that offer because of the pending developer agreement,” they wrote. “Now there is no such agreement; but instead of talking with the congregation the bishop has put out a press release.”

Bruno was involved in an earlier and ultimately unsuccessful 2015 attempt to sell the church property to a condominium developer for $15 million in cash. That effort prompted the members of St. James to bring misconduct allegations against Bruno, alleging he violated church law.

An Episcopal Church disciplinary hearing panel conducted three days of testimony on those allegations in March. Bruno again attempted to sell the property as the panel considered how to rule on the case.

That attempt earned Bruno two ministerial restrictions from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the latter of which removed St. James from Bruno’s authority and put the congregation under Taylor’s control. The previous restriction was designed to prevent Bruno trying to sell the property. It was this second sale attempt by Bruno that Taylor on Oct. 10 said had fallen through.

The hearing panel found Bruno guilty of the St. James complainants’ allegations that Bruno violated church canons because he:

  • failed to get the consent of the diocesan standing committee before entering into a contract to sell the property;
  • misrepresented his intention for the property to the members, the clergy and the local community at large;
  • misrepresented that St. James the Great was not a sustainable congregation;
  • misrepresented that Voorhees, then St. James’ vicar, had resigned;
  • misrepresented to some St. James members that he would lease the property back to them for a number of months and that the diocese would financially aid the church; and
  • engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy by “misleading and deceiving” the clergy and people of St. James, as well as the local community, about his plans for the property and for taking possession of the property and locking out the congregation.

In an Aug. 2 final order the panel said Bruno should be suspended from ordained ministry for three years because of misconduct. The hearing panel also strongly recommended that the diocese “as a matter of justice” immediately suspend its efforts to sell the property, that it restore the congregation and vicar to the church building, and that it reassign St. James the Great appropriate mission status.

The five-person panel said that it is convinced the diocese, particularly its Standing Committee and Taylor, must consciously choose to take part in a process of self-examination and truth-telling around these unfortunate and tragic events.

Taylor issued a statement after the hearing panel’s order saying that “Bishop Bruno’s 40 years of ordained ministry and 15 years as sixth bishop of Los Angeles are not summed up by this order or the events that precipitated it.”

The bishop coadjutor called him “a courageous, visionary leader” and said he looked forward to “continuing to learn from him and consult with him about the life of the diocesan community he has served and loves so well.”

Taylor said he and the Standing Committee “will do everything we can to promote a just solution that takes into account the interests of all in our community (including the faithful members of the Newport Beach church) and gives us the opportunity to move forward together. In a dispute such as this one, truth-telling, open communication, and reconciliation can be difficult for everyone involved.”

Taylor later told the diocese that the contract to sell the property that Bruno struck is legally binding on the diocese, and thus the diocese could not back out of the deal.

Meanwhile, Bruno has appealed the hearing panel’s ruling. His appeal will be heard by the church’s Court of Review for Bishops.

The Disciplinary Board for Bishops recently issued a one-page order saying that as of Jan. 1, 2018, and while his appeal is ongoing, Bruno must “refrain from the exercise of the gifts of ministry conferred by ordination and shall not exercise any authority over the real or personal property or temporal affairs of the Church.”

Those restrictions do not supersede the ones Curry had previously placed on Bruno. The three-year suspension recommended by the hearing panel would take Bruno beyond his mandatory retirement date in November 2018, when he turns 72.

However, the diocese recently announced that Bruno plans to retire on Nov. 30. The diocese has begun a series of gala farewell parties (http://www.brunofarewell.org/) for him.

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

Church called to be ‘reconciled reconcilers at launch of international peacemakers movement

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 12:44pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Christians should be “reconciled reconcilers,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said this week as he launched the Reconciling Leaders Network (RLN) – a new international movement of peacemakers. The RLN will train “the next generation of leaders to be reconcilers within their churches, communities and nations,” Lambeth palace said.

Read the entire article here.

More than 600 church leaders gather to discuss ‘mission in an Asian context’

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 12:27pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] For the first time in 23 years, Christians from around Asia are gathering to reflect on mission in an Asian context. The fourth Asian Mission Conference – the first since the 1994 conference in Seoul, South Korea – got underway today in Yangon, Myanmar. More than 600 people are expected to take part in the conference, under the theme “Journeying Together: Prophetic Witness to the Truth and Light, in Asia.”

Read the entire article here.

Episcopal Church Economic Justice Loan Committee awards
 three loans to community development organizations

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 12:23pm

[Episcopal Office of Public Affairs]  The Episcopal Church Economic Justice Loan Committee (EJLC) has awarded three loans totaling $950,000 to community development organizations to assist in affordable housing and small business development in areas that lack access to traditional lending.

  • The Economic Justice Loan Committee has granted $300,000 in loans to Partners for the Common Good PCG, Washington, DC.  Founded in 2000, Partners for the Common Good is a new borrower to the EJLC.  PCG primarily makes loans in participation with other mission-oriented lenders to nonprofit and socially motivated for-profit borrowers.  PCG is headquartered in Washington, DC, and lends nationally. A portion of its loan portfolio is also dedicated to promoting micro-finance and entrepreneurs abroad.
  • The Economic Justice Loan Committee has granted $350,000 in loans to PeopleFund in Austin, Texas.  An existing borrower, PeopleFund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation whose mission is to create economic opportunity and financial stability for underserved people by providing access to capital, education and resources to build healthy small businesses. PeopleFund was founded as the Austin Community Development Corporation (ACDC) in 1994 by a consortium of banks, city officials and community leaders in response to concerns about redlining in east and south Austin. ACDC was certified by the U.S. Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in 1997, and changed its name to PeopleFund in 2005.
  • The Economic Justice Loan Committee has granted $300,000 in loans to Shared Interest, New York, New York.  One of the very first borrowers of the EJLC with repeated and successful loans, Shared Interest mobilizes the resources for Southern Africa’s economically disenfranchised communities to sustain themselves and build equitable nations.  Shared Interest was established in 1994 by founding partners who were deeply entrenched in the anti-apartheid movement with an unwavering passion for human rights and economic justice. Responding to Southern Africa’s needs, Shared Interest has expanded to Mozambique, Swaziland and begun operations in Zambia.

The Economic Justice Loan Fund is an economic justice ministry through which the Episcopal Church part of its investment assets to provide capital for communities and groups that lack full and equal access to financial resources. Loans have been made in the United States and internationally to support community economic development, affordable housing, job creation and other avenues of mission. The Fund was created in 1998 by the Executive Council.  It combines two prior loan programs that had existed since 1988 and makes up to $7 million available. Loans are made to financial intermediaries, usually in amounts between $150,000 and $350,000, and usually for terms of three to five years. Loan applicants do not have to be affiliated with the Episcopal Church; however, applicants and recipients must have the endorsement of their local Episcopal bishop. Loans are not made to individuals or for individual projects.

Members and their dioceses are:  Warren Wong, Chair, California; Dianne Aid, Olympia; the Rev. Kimberly Jackson, Atlanta; the Very Rev. Will Mebane, Western New York; Bishop Rodney Michel, Pennsylvania; the Rev. Andrew Walter, Washington; Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, Ex Officio; President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, Ex Officio; and staff members N. Kurt Barnes, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer; Margareth Crosnier de Bellaistre, Director, Investment Management and Banking; Nancy Caparulo, Committee Support; and Tanie Oconer, Assistant Controller.

EPPN: Tell Congress to protect children’s health care

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 4:45pm

[Episcopal Public Policy Network policy alert] Congress has allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to expire. The failure to reauthorize this program threatens the health of 9 million children and pregnant women as well as the positive financial trajectory and stability of their families. We must urge Congress to approve and fund a five-year extension!

The CHIP program is important because it covers children and pregnant women who earn above the requirements for Medicaid but do not yet earn enough to afford private insurance.

In short, CHIP was created in 1997 with overwhelming bipartisan support. Congress has re-authorized and renewed funding for the program several times over the past 20 years, including most recently in 2015.

Congress has only a short window before states begin to run out of funding and have to terminate children’s health insurance coverage. Congress is delayed in passing this critically important renewal due to debates over how long the extension should be and technicalities of funding this historic program.

Write your Members of Congress to demand they fully fund a five-year extension of CHIP!

Episcopal churches help communities grapple with the opioid crisis

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 4:23pm

People who are addicted to opioids take them in pill form by mouth, in a powder by nose and in a liquid injection, usually in the arm. Photo: Pixabay

[Episcopal News Service] If someone with diabetes starts shaking and seizing with insulin shock, would you try to help? What about if someone was grimacing in pain from a heart attack right before your eyes — would you call 911?

Of course, you would, says Donna Barten, 56, a recently retired research neuroscientist on the outreach committee of Christ Church Cathedral in Springfield in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

That’s why Barten organized a Narcan training event at her church in September. Narcan is the brand name for a nasal-spray variety of naloxone, which revives people after they’ve stopped breathing from an opioid overdose. It’s simple and safe to administer, she says. One of Barten’s goals is to enable most of the churches in her diocese, as well as the area’s synagogues and mosques, to have Narcan and know how to use it.

“I’d like us to be a safe place where people can go for help,” Barten says. “Where is the hand of Jesus these days? They’re treated like lepers. This is one way that we can help.”

Donna Barten organized a Narcan training workshop attended by 16 clergy and laypeople from Christ Church Cathedral, neighboring South Congregational Church, the Loaves and Fishes feeding program and the entire office of Open Door’s social workers. In part of the training Barten used this video from the makers of Narcan that demonstrates how simple it is to use. Narcan’s marketers advise to use their product first, but Barten recommends calling 911 first to get trained medical professionals to the overdosing person as quickly as possible. Photo: The Rev. Tom Callard, dean of Christ Church Cathedral

Through workshops, plays, awareness campaigns, meetings and training sessions, Episcopalians across the United States and Anglicans in Canada are reaching out in their communities to educate people about the epidemic of opioid addiction. They’re teaching how to spot the symptoms of overdose, and they’re trying to give church members the tools to be of service in an emergency.

Narcan is one way to save a life. But critics say Narcan enables addicts to continue using.

Several Episcopalian leaders respond: Addicts can’t recover if they’re dead. “We, as non-addicts, cannot even begin to comprehend. We’re giving them a chance to recover. They don’t really want to be addicts. It’s a miserable life,” Barten says.

Helping the sick

Most people wouldn’t refrain from providing whatever emergency help they could, even if the suffering person’s disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, was self-inflicted by unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise — and even if that person will continue those lifestyle choices after being revived, Barten and other Episcopalians say.

Addiction — often referred to as substance use disorder in the medical world — is a disease too. It’s listed as such by the American Medical Association and many other reputable organizations.  Like some types of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction can be caused by a combination of biological, behavioral and environmental factors. The American Psychiatric Association calls addiction a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.

“When I read more about addiction, read about how brain changes after drugs, and how the brain was already different in the first place, I see it completely as an illness,” Barten says.

That’s the thinking behind helping people dying from an overdose, even if it’s not their first one. The use of naloxone kits by laypeople reversed at least 26,463 overdoses in the United States between 1996 and June 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Providing opioid overdose training and naloxone kits to laypersons who might witness an opioid overdose can help reduce opioid overdose mortality,” the centers concluded in a 2015 report.

In Springfield, there were 882 opioid-related Emergency Medical Service incidents in 2016, up from 702 such incidents in 2015. Forty-one people died from overdose each of those years, according to the Springfield Coalition for Opioid Overdose Prevention, coordinated by the City of Springfield’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Frances Stewart, 70, had struggled with her heroin use for at least 15 years. Then in Sept. 2016, she overdosed when she sniffed two bags of heroin at a friend’s house and went out cold. Her friends called 911, and paramedics brought her back to life with Narcan.

Frances Stewart, 70, was saved by Narcan when she had a heroin overdose in 2016. She’s been in recovery ever since, working to spread awareness and hope at Christ Church Cathedral in Springfield, Massachusetts, and through the Voices from Inside writing program for inmates. Photo: Donna Barten, Christ Church Cathedral

“They asked my age and when I told them, they were surprised because people on heroin usually don’t live that long. That’s when it really hit me, and I’ve been clean ever since,” Stewart says. She told her story at Barten’s Narcan training workshop, and she attends services at the Springfield cathedral sometimes. “I was so scared, I quit after that OD. I truly believe it saved my life.”

While imprisoned at Chicopee Women’s Correctional Center on heroin charges, Stewart took a Voices from Inside writing class co-facilitated by Barten. Now out, she’s training to be a writing facilitator herself and help others in still in jail. She earned a college degree decades ago, before drug addiction took ahold of her life. Now, she’s a grandma who can be present for her grandchildren, she said.

How the opioid crisis has evolved

Prescription opioid pills were the drugs of choice for addicts in the last decade or so, but that’s changed.

The crackdown on pill mills, especially in Florida, one of the top states suffering from this particular addiction, meant it was harder to get a prescription, and more expensive to buy opioid pills on the street. Even in states where there hasn’t been much of a crackdown, users turn to heroin because of the price. Heroin can cost only $4 for a bag, Barten said.

But the crisis is intensifying because heroin is being cut with fentanyl, which is about 10 times stronger. This adulteration oftentimes happens without the user’s knowledge. Worse still, an elephant tranquilizer called carfentanyl is now going around, and it’s 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

Users just released from rehab or jail can die from their first sniff or injection of an opioid if they relapse. And relapse is common, especially without proper support.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include illegal heroin, as well as synthetic painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet, codeine, morphine, and Oxycontin, among many others. They block pain and are safe when prescribed by a doctor for a short time, but the medicine also produces a dreamy euphoria that can lead to addiction when a patient becomes dependent on them and then misuses them. That’s when opioid pain relievers can lead to overdoses and deaths.

OxyContin was supposed to be a safer, time-released pill when it was released in 1996, but people learned they could break it down into a powder to inject or snort, and get a more extreme high all at once. Drug overdose deaths nearly tripled between 1999 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and six out of 10 of those deaths are due to opioids.

People addicted to opioids sometimes crush the pills into a powder to either snort up the nose or to liquefy for injection. Photo: Pixabay

The agency reports that 91 opioid deaths happen every day in the United States, including prescription opioids and heroin. Three out of four new heroin users started by abusing opioids.

West Virginia is considered the heroin capital of the United States, with an overdose death rate of 41.5 out of every 100,000 people. It’s a fact reiterated by anyone from the Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, bishop of Diocese of West Virginia, to Jan Rader, deputy chief of the Huntington Fire Department in West Virginia in the 2017 “Heroin(e)” Netflix documentary.

Huntington is in the rural western portion of the state, dominated by coal mining, financial hardship, lack of education and poverty. When physical laborers get injured and are prescribed opiates for their legitimate need, the craving can kick in. “It’s kind of like a recipe for disaster,” Rader said in the film.

Interstates 70 and 80, which connect the eastern part of West Virginia to Baltimore and Washington D.C., are known as heroin highways, says Klusmeyer, who’s also the Episcopal Church’s Province 3 president.

At a provincial synod meeting in 2015, in Martinsburg near I-70, attendees faced the fact that nearby Jefferson County, with a population of 53,500, had more opioid overdose hospitalizations than the entire city of Baltimore, Maryland, population 621,900, he said. “Not percentage wise, but numbers-wise,” Klusmeyer said.

“So, we said we’d try to work together to see what we could do.”

What churches are doing

Training and equipping people to use the overdose drug is one powerful way to help, although a short-term fix.

Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church is an independent, nationwide network of clergy, lay people, agencies and institutions, offering resources on how to handle the effects of addiction. Although inclusive of all addictions, the ministries’ original mission stems from the landmark 1979 General Convention resolution on alcohol.


In the Canadian Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, the Rev. Monique Stone, rector of the three-point Parish of Huntley, organized a naloxone workshop at St. Thomas the Apostle Anglican Church in February for 20 clergy, including diocesan Bishop John Chapman.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Eggertsville, in Buffalo, New York, offered a free Narcan/naloxone training in April. Offered by the Eerie County Department of Health, the session leader was a registered nurse.

Massachusetts’ Health and Human Services Department in Springfield trained Barten to train others to use Narcan. At the inaugural Narcan workshop in September, she invited the church’s clergy, diocesan staff, soup kitchen staff and people from the neighboring church who run a soup kitchen on alternate days.

The Springfield cathedral is downtown near low-income housing with a reputation for drug dealing. The cathedral’s community garden is open to the public, and so is the bathroom and soup kitchen. They’ve seen people using drugs in front of their church.

“Opioid addiction is an issue right in our neighborhood, so to have Narcan would make sense,” Barten says. “We want to have more training sessions and have a booth at the diocesan convention. Stigma is one of the major issues with this.”

Barten has been creating educational materials, and she’s writing a three-part article series for her diocesan newsletter.

Many state laws restrict Narcan from over-the-counter use. The Federal Drug Administration has also approved two forms of injectable naloxone, one that requires professional training and another that is an auto-injectable version that comes in a device that, once activated, verbally gives instructions on its use.

Lauren Wilkes-Stubblefield, an Episcopalian and communications consultant, isn’t allowed to use Narcan, even though she’s a firefighter and emergency medical responder for Hinds County, Mississippi. “I cannot even administer it in the field with my level of training,” she says.

Church leaders are finding creative ways to spread awareness of the problem.

The Rev. Ron Tibbetts, deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Wrentham, Massachusetts, led a campaign to post signs with the number 2,069 across the town and area communities. That’s number of townspeople who died from opioids in 2016.

The theater ministry of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown, New York, created a play to help to fight the prevalence of opioid addition and overdose deaths in Western New York. “Least Resistance” is an original script that compiles stories of people affected by drug use. The show was directed by Steven M. Cobb, himself in long-term recovery.

The Diocese of West Virginia, independently and through the West Virginia Council of Churches, is leading the state in the fight, Klusmeyer says. On May 2, the diocese held both a Clergy Day devoted solely to addiction and a state-wide clergy gathering, with more than 350 clergy of all denominations in attendance. “For the first time in history that we know, clergy of all stripes came together from the state,” Klusmeyer said.

About 350 clergy of many denominations from throughout West Virginia gathered May 25, at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon to discuss the opioid overdose crisis, the impediments and possible solutions. Photo: Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia

Twelve “listening events” were held around West Virginia, which revealed some of the roadblocks to solving the crisis. A big issue is that state agencies offer Narcan training, but at the moment, churches are not permitted to dispense them.

The West Virginia Council of Churches thinks there should be some simple fix. “I dare the legislature not to change it, in light of the realities in West Virginia and around the country,” Klusmeyer says. “Our legislature meets in January and February, and we will present this legislation to allow churches to do this.”

Klusmeyer acknowledges that Narcan isn’t the only solution. But neither is jail.

“We cannot incarcerate this to a healthy solution,” Klusmeyer says. “It’s not about arresting the drugged person and throwing them in jail. It’s about health care and offering all the assistance necessary. How do we make that happen?”

Bishop Mike Klusmeyer leads a gathering of multi-denominational clergy to discuss the opioid crisis and what to do about it. Photo: Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia

True, Klusmeyer says, for some people, jail might actually help. Sometimes it keeps inmates away from drugs, especially when the jail provides sobriety-support programs. Drug Courts offer alternatives to people charged with drug possession, such as rehab, graduated incentives and supervision rather than simply imprisoning offenders. For others, mental health treatment or institutions are the pathways to recovery. Family support or 12-step programs help others.

“Unfortunately, there’s no one magic bullet to fix it,” he says.

The Rev. Allison DeFoor, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Florida, is tackling the problem in a more “top-down” way through advocating for policy change in prison and justice reform and ministering to prisoners, says Sandy Wilson, the diocesan communications director. DeFoor is working with Florida State University’s Project Accountable Justice and pushing for needle-exchange reform to provide users with clean needles and reduce the transmission of diseases.

This is a problem that affects young and old, rich and poor. Statistics show so many people live in this opioid crisis on some level, either personally or through family or friends. “Many of them see the church as a hotel for saints, and that’s been a problem, isn’t it, that those outside the church feel like they’re not good enough to be inside the church?” Klusmeyer says.

“God knows, we have a lot of work to do.”

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

Christchurch City Council consults on $10 million cathedral contribution

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 12:00pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The local governing authority for the  New Zealand City of Christchurch has launched a consultation on how to fund its $10 million NZD (about £5.36 million GBP) share of the rebuild costs for the city’s cathedral. Christ Church Cathedral was severely damaged in an earthquake in 2011. Diocesan plans to replace the cathedral were delayed by unsuccessful legal challenges. Last month the diocesan synod decided to re-instate the building after promises of funding by the national government and Christchurch City Council.

Read the entire article here.

Cathedral to display ‘the most dangerous book in Tudor England’

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 11:56am

[Anglican Communion News Service] St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is set to display one of only three-known surviving copies of “the most dangerous book in Tudor England” as part of an event to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In 1536, William Tyndale was executed for his work in translating the New Testament into English, and King Henry VIII’s officials and church leaders set about searching for destroying copies of what was the first English-language Bible. But within a few years it was available within every church in the country.

Read the entire article here.

Episcopalians flee Northern California fires – and help their neighbors

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 4:17pm

The neighborhood near Coffey Park, upper right corner, in Santa Rosa, California, appears to have been completely destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire on Oct. 8-9. Photo: California Highway Patrol – Golden Gate Division

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Karen King woke up to flames in the middle of the night Oct. 8 in her Oakmont Village home east of Santa Rosa, California.

“We could see the flames jumping on the top of the ridges of Annadel [State Park] that separate us from Kenwood,” said King, who is the interim priest at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Kenwood. “We could see the fires all around us. And we left, thinking we could go home in the morning, and we’ve never been home.”

She and her spouse, Judith Kesot, went to the Montgomery Village Shopping Center parking lot along with many other people. The shopping center is on the other side of Annadel State Park and closer to Santa Rosa proper.

The nearby Presbyterian Church of the Roses opened its doors to everyone in the shopping center parking lot and to anybody who passed on the street, King said. “It was just amazing what they did,” she said.

As many as 15 people have died thus far in the inferno that began sweeping through Northern California, primarily the state’s wine country, the night of Oct. 8. Authorities say they are bracing for more deaths, in part because hundreds of people are listed as missing, including 200 in Sonoma County alone. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, says in its latest report that 1,162 structures burned as of 5:30 a.m. MDT Oct. 10.

There are eight named fires and two “complexes” of fires, one north of Santa Rosa with two fires burning and the other near Napa, California, to the east with three fires. Six of the fires are exhibiting “extreme fire behavior,” that is threatening residences and other structures. None of the fires have been contained, and they comprise 99,580 acres. More than 2,325 people are battling the blazes.


King spoke by phone with Episcopal News Service from the rectory of the Church of the Incarnation in downtown Santa Rosa, just outside of the city’s northern evacuation zone. The Rev. Jim Richardson, Incarnation’s priest-in-charge, offered King and Kesot a place in the church’s rectory.

King later told ENS that they had heard that no homes burned in Oakmont, but they still do not know what has happened to the church in Kenwood. “Yesterday morning – it seems so long ago – I was told that a tree had fallen on the office at St. Patrick,” she said.

The Oct. 10 morning sun tries to burn through a smoky haze above Santa Rosa, California, and the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, caused by a swarm of fast-moving wildfires that are devastating huge swaths of northern California. Photo: Lori Korleski Richardson

Meanwhile, she said, she is trying to keep track of some 90-year-old parishioners “until their families can get here to pick them up.”

Diocese of Northern California Bishop Barry Beisner said Oct. 9 that “these tragic fires have greatly impacted some of our congregations.”

“Some of our people have experienced great loss.”

Episcopal Relief & Development staff members have been in touch with diocesan partners in the region and are standing by to help.

Richardson said on Oct. 10 that he knows of parishioners who have lost their homes. “They are safe but their homes are not,” he said.

None of those folks are at Incarnation, having gone to stay with family or friends, but the rectory was now a temporary home to “three people, two dogs and one cat.” Four or five people were in the church building. Richardson offered the property to Sonoma County as an official evacuation center but was told that the country had run out of cots and other supplies. St. Stephen’s in Sebastopol in the southern part of the county is listed as an official shelter.

Incarnation’s church and rectory are on the north side of downtown Santa Rosa, just blocks from the larger of the city’s two evacuation zones, he said.

Areas under mandatory evacuation #TubbsFire pic.twitter.com/X3O0GzgC37

— City of Santa Rosa (@CityofSantaRosa) October 9, 2017

Most parishioners and neighbors who had other places to go have left. “Most people want to get the heck further away from here.” Others “really want to stay close by, hoping they can get back to their houses,” Richardson added.

On the morning of Oct. 10, Richardson said Santa Rosa was chaotic “but it’s not as bad as yesterday” when people were fleeing the fires’ advance. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate, including patients from several hospitals and residents of Spring Lake Village, an Episcopal retirement community.

Along with King, the Episcopal evacuees include Dean Mary Hauck of the Sierra Deanery; recently retired rector of Holy Trinity, Nevada City, Christopher Seal; the Rev. Linda Clader, associate at St. Paul’s, Healdsburg, and retired homiletics professor at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley; and former Bishop of Rhode Island George Hunt.

Along with Incarnation in Santa Rosa, Emmanuel in Grass Valley and St. Stephen’s in Sebastopol opened their doors as shelters for some of the displaced.

Richardson said that the fires, whose cause is still unknown, came completely by surprise and were driven by strong winds. Richardson, who lives in Sacramento with his wife Lori Korleski Richardson, the interim communications director for the Diocese of Northern California, was headed home after services in Santa Rosa on Oct. 8 when he noticed the winds kicking up.

This map shows the swarms of fires burning in northern California, most of them within the borders of Sonoma County. Image: County of Sonoma

“Then they really started roaring up to 75 miles per hour,” coming off the Nevada and Utah deserts to the east. Richardson, who used to be a reporter in Southern California, recognized them as similar to the Santa Ana winds that often turn October and November into fire season in that part of the state.

But, “I have lived [in Northern California] off and on my whole life and I don’t ever remember Santa Ana winds,” he said.

Richardson got a telephone call at 5 a.m. Oct. 9 from Incarnation Parish Administrator Alison Cole telling him, “Santa Rosa’s on fire.”

“I said, ‘What?’ ”

After meeting with diocesan officials later that morning, Richardson set off for Santa Rosa, a trip that normally takes about two hours. He did not get there until afternoon because many roads were closed as the fires spread.

A curfew imposed on Santa Rosa the night of Oct. 9 made the city feel very quiet, he said. After he got done talking with ENS the morning of Oct. 10, Richardson planned to track down some parishioners who were evacuated from a local hospital.

And, “we will see again if we are needed to be shelter tonight,” he added.

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

Feeding of the thousands, as Church of South India celebrates its platinum jubilee

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 12:27pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Diocese of Madras hosted a fellowship lunch for several thousand people in September as the Church of South India (CSI) celebrated the 70th anniversary of its formation. CSI was formed Sept. 27, 1947, when the Church of England in southern India and the Methodist Church in South India joined the Congregational, Presbyterian and Reformed churches in the already-united South India United Church. As a united church, in addition to being a full member of the Anglican Communion, CSI is also a member of other global Christian communions, including the World Methodist Council and the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

Read the entire article here.

Irish Roman Catholic primate preaches at Anglican Reformation service

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 12:19pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Roman Catholic primate of all Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, delivered a homily in Armagh’s Anglican Cathedral at a special choral evensong to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In the presence of the Anglican primate, Archbishop Richard Clarke, Martin spoke about three ways of reconciling the Reformation by emphasizing “the importance of friendship and trust,” “a shared encounter with Christ in the sacred scriptures and in prayer” and by “strengthening our shared Christian witness on the island of Ireland.”

Read the entire article here.

Day of prayer and fasting called as plague sweeps Madagascar

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 3:48pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Mothers’ Union in the Anglican Province of the Indian Ocean is calling for a day of prayer and fasting on Oct. 13, in response to an epidemic of plague which is sweeping the island of Madagascar. The provincial Mother’s Union president, Marie-Pierrette Bezara, has called on women to pray that “the God of mercy [will] save the Malagasy people from this horrible disease.”

Read the entire article here.

Q&A: Union of Black Episcopalians President Annette Buchanan

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 3:36pm

Union of Black Episcopalians President Annette Buchanan, left, waits in the procession before Eucharist at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia during the group’s recent 49th annual conference. With her is the Rev. Sandye Wilson, rector of St. Andrew & Holy Communion in South Orange, New Jersey, and an adviser to Buchanan. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Asbury Park, New Jersey] Annette Buchanan recently spoke to Episcopal News Service about her role as president of the Union of Black Episcopalians and the organization’s goals and importance within the Episcopal Church.

The Union of Black Episcopalians is the descendant of several such organizations with the church, dating from 1856 when the Rev. James Theodore Holly (who later became the bishop of Haiti) founded the Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church Among Colored People. On Feb. 8, 1968, 17 black priests met at St. Philip’s Church, New York, and founded the Union of Black Clergy and Laity to remove racism from the church and society, and to stimulate the growth of black membership. The name was changed to the Union of Black Episcopalians in 1971. UBE has more than 55 chapters and interest groups throughout the continental United States and the Caribbean. It also has members in Canada, Africa and Latin America.

When UBE met in July for the 49th time, the members marked another milestone: meeting jointly for the first time with the African Descent Lutheran Association.

Buchanan is in the first year of her second three-year term as president. During her first term, she said, the organization had to rebuild its infrastructure, tackling communications, administration and financial issues. UBE also conducted a membership drive.

Annette Buchanan

Born: Jamaica, West Indies
Residence: Neptune, New Jersey
Who: President of the Union of Black Episcopalians.
Professional background: 27-year career with the telecommunication companies Bell Labs, AT&T, Lucent and Avaya; began career as a software developer and systems engineer, culminating as the director of technology strategy and development. B.A. computer science/psychology, Hunter College, City University of New York.

The union also began a collaboration with two other advocacy groups in the Episcopal Church: the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice and the Episcopal Ecological Network.

And, there is now a position on UBE’s board for a young adult, and the group is actively recruiting youth and young adult members. “We started with eight young adults three years ago and now we had 30 at this conference,” Buchanan said. “That’s part of the strength of UBE is that it’s multigenerational. I really believe that is part of our strength. We’ve found a way over the years to blend and make it work.”

In the coming years, look for UBE to focus on social justice advocacy, black church vitality and leadership development, Buchanan said. All of UBE’s efforts are focused on “being true to our mission, which is racial and social justice. And, to ensure that we are doing that at the local, regional and national level.”

First of all, what was your reaction to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and its aftermath?

Tragic but not surprising. Most of the analysis from the well-respected voices in the black community pointed out that white racial anxiety, not economic anxiety, was a major reason for the current president’s victory. Additionally, his unapologetic rhetoric as the birther cheerleader, challenging President Obama’s legitimacy [to serve], was an attraction for many. Others may have voted twice for a black president but wanted someone they could control and who would fix all their problems. So, given this toxic stew, it is no surprise that these racial hate groups have been emboldened by the bullhorn (not dog whistle) that they are hearing from the White House.

The church’s response to Charlottesville is to again acknowledge that we are not living in a post-racial society and [we must] address racism as it exists in our own sphere of influence: being reflective and thoughtful about how racism is manifested in our families, congregation, with our staff/colleagues, within the community we live and serve, and pledging to do at least one thing to eradicate that negative behavior. Starting small will prepare us for the larger battles of voter suppression, mass incarceration, environmental injustice and the many structural issue of racism within our church and society. UBE’s role is to continue to advocate within our church and community for racial and social justice reform and to be boldly engaged in the solution for the eradication of this destructive sin.

How did you come into the Episcopal Church and how did UBE figure into it?

I started in the Episcopal Church when I was in Brooklyn. My mother attended St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on Avenue D. It’s one the largest, if not the largest, Afro-Caribbean churches – over 1,000 members. It’s sort of one of our megachurches. I was in my young-adult phase with a young family, and my mother encouraged us to go to church. I became semi-active. I did the Boy Scouts thing and the youth work. This would have been the mid-’80s. In the later 1980s, I got a job at AT&T. I worked for Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, and so my family and I moved to Neptune. At a Black History Month program, I met the Rev. Sandye Wilson, who was one of the presenters, and at that time, she was the rector of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in [nearby] Asbury Park [where Buchanan now is a member]. She and other members of this congregation were very active UBE members.

I attended my first UBE conference in 1991 in New Orleans. That was just mind-blowing because that was when the Rev. Curtis Sisco was alive. [Sisco was rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, New Orleans, and the liturgical editor of Lift Every Voice and Sing II.] He was the chaplain and dean for that conference. It was a very unique experience in terms of infusing the services with Afro-American-Caribbean liturgy styles.

So, I have been there since, very active at the local level. We have a chapter in New Jersey. In the local chapter, I worked my way up from secretary to vice president to president. Then I was asked to run for the Mid-Atlantic region. I then served as national secretary and then four years ago I was elected to national president.

Can you tell us about how your discernment led you to stand for election as UBE president?

There’s really two tracks. There’s a track in which I was discerning being part of a religion that upheld and invited in people who were of African descent. I was studying a lot of black history and so, for me, a denomination that was purely white [meant] there was something missing. What UBE did was bring that black Afro-American perspective, especially when you looked at the history of UBE and how it intersects with the Civil Rights Movement. The other aspect of it was, because I worked at Bell Labs and I was an engineer, there were some skills that I had developed. I was in management so I had very good training in team-building and organization skills that were well-baked – I spent 25 years at AT&T. Those skills were extremely transferable to the organization. So, it was a marrying of those two: my needing to have affirmed my blackness within the church and my leadership, teamwork and management skills. Those intersected and that’s what brought me here.

How would you describe UBE’s importance to its members and the wider church?

We hold up to the church the fact that black Episcopalians as a group exist, that we have made major contributions the church, and that we will continue to be here and to offer ourselves and our ministry to the church at large. We’re a witness. That shows up in many ways. For example, we sponsored Artemisia Bowden as one of the saints in our calendar. If you don’t have someone advocating on your behalf, you get overlooked.

We hold the church accountable for its institutional racism that still exists. It is sort of the Obama Syndrome: because we have a black presiding bishop means we are post-racial. There’s still places where we’ve had to hold the church accountable. Many of the things we don’t make public, but one of the things we look at, for example, is our seminaries and the staff at the seminaries. We ask why there are no black professors. When you hold people accountable and ask the question, that is not affirmative action. That is just asking them to hold up a mirror and to be intentional when they’re doing their recruiting to include as part of their consideration someone who is not like the people they have had before.

We also look at the ordination process and [diocesan] commissions on ministry who need to be sensitive to the fact that they need to have anti-racism training. We’ve heard from people who go through this process that they don’t embrace them, and a lot of them feel that it’s because of who they are.

And, of course, we encourage folks to be on diocesan councils, standing committees, finance and budget. They have to be part of the decision-making of the church. Our role is to ensure that we are everywhere we need to be within this church.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been getting more and more attention in the Episcopal Church. UBE has always been connected to those institutions, but it seems the organization has become more visible in its advocacy there.

We have a strong component in our presiding bishop. He is all about HBCUs, and at last year’s conference he charged us to make HBCUs a priority. This charge reinforced our role of advocacy on behalf of their funding. We’ve only just begun to do it with our churches, to remind people that HBCUs exist [so they can] have that be a choice that families make. So many people don’t even know that they exist. The schools’ graduation rates are pretty high because of the support that their students get from the community that is there. Some can survive in the larger state schools, others really need that familial-type environment.

Our role is to be the ambassadors for the schools and have all our churches, through our chapters, be reintroduced to the HBCUs so that their students can consider these schools when they are making their decisions about colleges. [The General Convention budget] is always an issue for the church, and we have to hold the church accountable for the funds because the largest outreach that we do as a church to the black community is the HBCUs.

Why is it important for the Episcopal Church continue and even deepen its support for the two Episcopal-affiliated HBCUs?

People always ask the question: Why in 2017 do you need a black church? Why do you need UBE? Every time we host something, the comments section says: Why do you have a Union of Black Episcopalians? We don’t have a Union of White Episcopalians. That’s called the Episcopal Church.

Supporting HBCUs is part of our history of reconciliation because if you know the history of black folks in this church, supporting the remnants of the HBCUs is the least that we can do. When you know that segregation existed … we have an obligation to these schools to help them to reach out again to these students, many of whom don’t have other options or for whom other institutions of learning will not work. [We need] to honor the history of these HBCUs, and their graduates that they have produced for our community, especially for young black men to avoid the school-to-prison pipeline and to give them opportunities to be good citizens by showing that there is a community that cares for them. And, if we do it for one child, then it is worth it.

Speaking of historically black institutions, is there a difference these days between historically black churches and churches that are primarily white institutions with black members?

Originally, most black Episcopalians were in historically black churches. As people have moved and migrated, they’re in different types of churches. Some of them are in churches that are predominately white and they’re the only [black] family. Some of them are in multicultural churches. People who are in mixed congregations somehow feel like they miss out on information [from UBE] because it is easier for us to get to them when they are in historically black congregations. The infrastructure is there. We can get to the clergy, whether they are white or black.

Part of our challenge is how to reach all black Episcopalians who may not be in historically black churches. And, I think that increasingly people are not in historically black churches. What also happens to people that come into those settings, we find that most of them don’t know what the issues are and they also don’t know the history. They tend to think that everything is OK until they run into a situation. That is why they come to the conference, because that is the only time they are with other black Episcopalians. It’s a reunion.

What else didn’t I ask you that you would like the entire Episcopal Church to know about black Episcopalians and their ministries?

Our ministry extends beyond African Americans. It’s to the Diaspora – the Haitians, the Africans, [people from the] Caribbean – so our ministry now needs to speak to that and does speak to that. UBE is an umbrella organization for all of the Diaspora, even though some may have their own organizations. With that, what we hold in our hands is a plethora of ideas. People that are more conservative or people who are more progressive or more traditional or more contemporary in terms of church worship. I think that’s a model for the church to look into: that everyone can be together in the same organization and just try to balance all that it means to be Episcopalian.

We’ve just started a chapter in Haiti and [some people asked] why do we need a Union of Black Episcopalians in a black country We had to talk about having a seat at the table, and influence and reconciliation. We said to them that we are not missionaries; we have come to learn from you. Even when we are reaching out ecumenically, part of our goal is that all of us have something to learn from each other.

For instance, we know that the church is growing in Africa and in the Caribbean, and people might suggest that they are a throwback to the past and there are no [modern] distractions there, but the fact is they have the same distractions we do and the church is still strong. What are they doing in terms of evangelism and outreach to have folks be in church? Their churches are thriving, so what is that about?

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

This interview was edited for clarity and condensed.

Primates’ communiqué from their Oct. 2-6, 2017 meeting

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 2:00pm
God’s Church for God’s World

The meeting of Anglican Primates, the senior bishops of the Anglican Provinces, took place in Canterbury between Monday 2 October and Friday 6 October at the invitation of the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.

We affirm that we believe our time together to have been a gift from God, through which we experienced many signs of God’s presence amongst us. The sense of common purpose underpinned by God’s love in Christ and expressed through mutual fellowship was profound.

Primates from 33 Provinces attended the meeting. Three Primates were absent because of a combination of personal circumstances and difficulties within their Provinces. Primates from Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda declined to attend citing what they believed to be a lack of good order within the Communion. We were saddened by their absence and expressed our hope and prayer that all will join us at future meetings.

We welcomed sixteen new Primates attending for the first time , including the Primate from the new Province of The Sudan. They received a briefing on the role of the meeting, within the Instruments of Communion, on the day before the main meeting.

The first morning was spent in prayer. The agreed agenda focussed on the Five Marks of Mission of the Communion, in particular the challenge of sharing the love, compassion and reconciliation of Jesus with those in need around the world. This followed initial consideration of the internal affairs of the Communion

Internal Affairs of the Communion

We welcomed the progress being made towards the 2020 Lambeth Conference (#LC2020) and encouraged all Provinces to seek to find ways to contribute towards the cost of their Bishops and spouses attending.

It was agreed that the Archbishop of Canterbury be invited to regional meetings of Primates and others during 2018 and 2019 so that the vision for the 2020 Lambeth Conference can be shared. The Archbishop of Canterbury will consider whether another full Primates’ Meeting will be held before the Lambeth Conference. We welcomed progress in implementing resolutions agreed by the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka in 2016; in particular the responsibility of all Provinces to ensure comprehensive safeguarding measures to protect children and vulnerable adults. The creation of the Anglican Safe Church Commission was welcomed and endorsed.

In our last meeting in January 2016 we made a clear decision to walk together while acknowledging the distance that exists in our relationships due to deep differences in understanding on same sex marriage. We endorsed this approach, which we will continue with renewed commitment.The Archbishops’ Task Group, established in 2016, gave an interim report on its work. This was warmly welcomed, particularly the recommendations around development of common liturgy, the principle and practice of pilgrimage and a season of prayer of repentance and reconciliation.

We listened carefully to the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) and with sadness accepted that the consequences for our relationships agreed in January 2016 would also apply to SEC after its decision on same sex marriage. This means that for three years, members of SEC would no longer represent the Communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies; should not be appointed or elected to internal standing committees and that, while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they would not take part in decision making on any issues of doctrine or polity. The Archbishop of Canterbury will take steps within his authority to implement this agreement.

We agreed the importance of all Provinces contributing to the operational costs of supporting the communion, but according to each Province’s capacity and potential to contribute.

It was confirmed that the Anglican Church of North America is not a Province of the Anglican Communion. We recognised that those in ACNA should be treated with love as fellow Christians.

We discussed difficulties arising from cross-border interventions, agreeing that the principles were clearly stated from the Council of Nicaea onwards and in the 1998 Lambeth Conference. We recognised that there were opportunities for joint initiatives and mission partnerships for the benefit of the Gospel where these are agreed between Provinces. However consent was critical to any inter-provincial collaboration and it was essential that courtesy and love should be extended to Provinces at all times.

Attempts to deal with breaches of consent and courtesy should be made in regional Primates’ Meetings and only referred to the Secretary General and the Archbishop of Canterbury as a last resort. We recognised that persistent and deliberate non-consensual cross-border activity breaks trust and weakens our communion.

We recognised that there is a need for a season of repentance and renewal including where interventions may have happened without prior permission having being sought.

We reaffirmed commitments made in 2016 regarding the LGBTI community, specifically the Communion’s sorrow for previous failures to support LGBTI people and its condemnation of homophobic prejudice and violence.

We welcomed the news that the Church of England has embarked on a major study of human sexuality in its cultural, scientific, scriptural and theological aspects and anticipated considering the results of this work at a future meeting.

External Issues

For most of the meeting we focussed on external issues including evangelism and discipleship, reconciliation and peace building, climate change, food security, refugees, human trafficking and freedom of religion. On the final day the Anglican Inter Faith Commission was launched.

The world has never felt the need of a Saviour more keenly. We have shared stories of pain and loss, of natural disasters and tragedy, of violence and threat. However in this world we have joy, courage and hope because of the light of the Saviour of all, Jesus Christ. God has poured his love upon his whole Church by his Holy Spirit. The Church lives to proclaim this gospel in word and deed. We therefore commit ourselves afresh to lead those we serve in the joyful announcement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We pledge to pray for the empowering of the Holy Spirit, that we may witness effectively to the good news. To this end between Ascension day and Pentecost in 2018 we call all those who are able, to join us in praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ – that the Holy Spirit may empower the announcement of the Gospel so that many may believe.

We recognised that at least half of the Provinces in the Communion had areas with food security issues. Whilst developing nations suffered more, there were pockets of food insecurity elsewhere, for example, reliance on food banks for many in the British Isles.

As at previous meetings, we were deeply concerned to hear accounts of the severe impact of climate change, including the threat of rising seas to many islands and low-lying lands. We understood the importance of giving moral leadership because the effects of climate change are not evenly distributed. Drought and flooding most affect the poorest of the poor, with the least resources to rebuild a home, replant a field or seek medical care for flood-borne illnesses. We recommitted ourselves to advocate for improved stewardship of God’s creation.

We heard powerful testimonies of the church’s engagement in reconciliation in a number of places, particularly by those torn apart by apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and civil wars, historic and on-going: in places such as South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We pledged solidarity with each other in this sacrificial and often costly ministry.

We are committed to mediating in situations of violent conflict; ministering to the victims of war, including refugees; upholding indigenous rights; supporting the victims of sexual and domestic violence; and maintaining a faithful presence in situations of extreme persecution and terror. We discussed the role of reconciliation at every level, from personal relationships, to communal, societal and with the rest of creation, including care for the environment. Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel – it is because we are reconciled to God in Christ that all are given the message and ministry of reconciliation.

We recognised the vital role of all spouses in supporting bishops and archbishops, and particularly the importance of women placed in front line roles because of the offices held by their husbands. We appreciated the leadership and initiative of Mrs Caroline Welby and others in supporting women in such situations.

We heard of the plight of Indigenous Peoples, resulting from government policies of forced assimilation associated with colonial expansion. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that addressed this history in Canada grounded its report and calls to action on the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We reaffirmed our commitment to encourage all governments to support the UN Declaration.

We recognised God’s call for justice and dignity for all humanity and raised with profound concern the desperate plight of millions of people facing hunger. We are committed to support actions which end hunger, promote sustainable agriculture and address the root causes of food insecurity.

We grieved for the 65 million refugees and internally displaced people forcibly uprooted by conflict, persecution and violence; the nearly 20 million displaced by natural disasters; and the millions of vulnerable migrants. We committed ourselves to respond with others to ensure protection, meet immediate need, and address underlying causes.

We heard about the suffering of 40 million victims of modern slavery and human trafficking – a crime against humanity which profits from the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable individuals. We committed ourselves to address this issue in ourb countries and across the globe.

We discussed freedom of religion and belief and heard about particular challenges faced in some Provinces. We endorsed the need to ensure that provisions relating to the freedom of religion are included and upheld in national constitutions, working with ecumenical and interfaith partners, where appropriate.

We heard of issues arising from living alongside those of other faiths; a painful daily reality in many Provinces. We commit to seeking ways to develop better understanding on the path to peaceful co-existence. We are excited at the prospect of the Anglican Inter Faith Commission working in this area.

We were deeply grateful to the staff of the Anglican Communion Office, and especially the Secretary General, to the staff at Lambeth Palace and at Church House, Westminster. We are especially grateful for the warm welcome, generous hospitality and kindness offered by the Dean of Canterbury and all at the Cathedral: their contribution was very important in setting the mood of the meeting in prayer and mutual listening. We also thank the Community of St Anselm for their prayer, help and support.

We leave enriched by the communion we share and strengthened by the faithful witness of Anglicans everywhere. We deeply appreciate the prayers of many throughout the world over our time together.

6 October 2017

Global Anglican commission to tackle inter-religious tensions

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 1:49pm

Bishop Mouneer Anis addresses Anglican Primates in a video message from Cairo
Photo Credit: EAMC

[Anglican Communion News Service] A new global commission to “bring mutual understanding and build trust where there is ignorance, fear and hostility” between different faith groups has been launched Oct. 6 at the Anglican Communion’s Primates Meeting in Canterbury, England.

The new Anglican Inter Faith Commission had been requested by members of the Anglican Consultative Council when they met in Lusaka last year. Primates from 33 Anglican provinces heard how the new body had now been established.

Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa Mouneer Anis will chair the new group, which will meet for the first time in Cairo in February next year. He addressed the primates in a video message filmed in his diocese’s new media centre. Each province in the Anglican Communion has been invited identify suitable members of the commission.

“Building on the strong foundations laid by the Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON), the Anglican Inter Faith Commission . . . will work both internationally and in regional groups across the Anglican Communion, in the first instance to gather research into the engagement of Anglicans with people of other faiths,” a spokesperson for the commission said. “It will look at both the challenges and the opportunities of inter faith dialogue, of working together with other faith communities for the common good and of witnessing to and sharing the love of God with others.

“The commission will listen carefully to the experiences of Anglicans in all the provinces and will seek to identify good practice which can be shared throughout the Communion. It will then develop regional and thematic work streams which will seek to enrich the life and ministry of the Anglican Communion worldwide in its relationships with people from faith backgrounds other than Christian.”

At a press conference in a building overlooking Canterbury Cathedral, at the end of the Primates Meeting,  Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that “the issues of interfaith strain, stress, even conflict, are global, they are generational and they are ideological.”

He said that the new commission “will bring together the wisest people across the Communion to work on this area in the places of highest tension with the aim of replacing diversity in conflict with diversity in collaboration.”

The commission would operate at “different levels,” Welby said. “There is a very strong emphasis on operating at a global level, but also at provincial and regional levels . . . because different levels face different issues of conflict between faiths, or of tension between faiths, and potential conflict; and opportunities for collaboration between faith groups depending upon whether Christians are a majority or minority in the area, or what the other faith groups are in the area, and so on.

“It will look at both issues around the theology of our differences and how we handle those, and also practical application of working together.”

The secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, told ACNS that at a time of “ever increasing influence of extremists . . . among the major religious communities in a significant number of our provinces, this Inter Faith Commission and its objectives are a welcome and timely step in the right direction.

“This is an opportunity for the Anglican Communion to play its role in every part of the world where we are present.”

Speaking at the press conference, he added: “particularly in parts of the world where Christians are a minority, with this Anglican commission, the minority status will now have something bigger to look up to. It means when that country speaks there are 165 other countries speaking through that local representation.”

RIP: Arthur E. Walmsley, 12th bishop of Connecticut

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 1:10pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Arthur E. Walmsley, 12th bishop diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, died peacefully at his home in Deering, New Hampshire, early Oct. 5.

Walmsley had been struggling with a bad case of pneumonia for the last few weeks.  He had recently returned home from the hospital and was being cared for by his loving wife and companion in ministry, Roberta. He was 89 years old.

Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas called Walmsley “a visionary and passionate Christian leader.”

Walmsley was elected bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut while rector of St. Paul’s in New Haven and served in that role from 1979 to 1981 before becoming bishop diocesan in 1981. He retired in 1993.

Walmsley helped the Episcopal Church in Connecticut move forward in new ways in God’s mission, particularly in these areas: social justice, urban ministry, care for individuals living with HIV-AIDS, refugee and immigrant services, and racial reconciliation, Douglas said.

“His love for Camp Washington and fundraising efforts advanced the ministry of Transfiguration Lodge,” Douglas wrote in an email to the diocese. “And it was his vision that led Church Home of Hartford to become Seabury retirement community in Bloomfield. Arthur, together with Roberta, cared deeply for the clergy and their families in Connecticut as pastor and counselor.”

Walmsley will be remembered, “not only for his profound and far-reaching ministry in Connecticut, but also for his work in ecumenical affairs, social justice and racial reconciliation,” according to Douglas. Walmsley’s work occurred in a variety of positions, including in what was then the Department of Social Relations at the Episcopal Church Center in New York and as director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.

After resigning as bishop diocesan, Walmsley had a vocation as a spiritual director for lay people and clergy alike, as episcopal visitor to the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and co-founder of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.

At his request and direction, there will be memorial services in both New Hampshire and at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford. Dates and details will be announced.

Walmsley is survived by his wife, Roberta, and their children, Elizabeth and John.

Middle East archbishop briefs Anglican primates on reconciliation

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 12:48pm

Archbishop Suheil Dawani, primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, spoke to the Oct. 2-6 Primates Meeting about reconciliation. Photo: ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem and the Middle East has briefed his fellow Anglican Primates on his province’s reconciliation ministry. The archbishop, whose own diocese takes in the countries of Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria and Lebanon; and whose province includes Iran, Cyprus and the Gulf, and Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, has considerable experience of reconciliation work.

“This morning I had the opportunity to update the primates on the situation we have in Jerusalem – a city which embraces three religions,” Dawani told the Anglican Communion News Service, “and I said something about how we build trust and hope amongst the communities who live there.”

He said that reconciliation was “a priority” for Anglicans, and added that the work could be done through the church’s work and mission. “I believe strongly that through the work of our schools and institutions we can reach people and we can build up a trust and friendship amongst all these communities.”

The archbishop, who was attending the his first Primates Meeting since being elected as the lead bishop in his province, said: “ At the Primates Meeting we had wonderful fellowship amongst everybody. And this is, for me, a week of learning from each other, exchanging experiences and also learning what other provinces are doing.

“I believe that the interaction that happened with all the primates was very helpful in a very good Christian spirit. And I have to say ‘thank you’ to Archbishop Justin, because he is a good facilitator and I am really confident that he will lead the whole Anglican Communion to a place of getting together to be reconciled with each other. This is my wish and prayer.”

Reconciliation is one of the three priority areas of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. It was on the agenda of the Primates Meeting at the request of the communion’s leaders who took part in the meeting this week in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral, England.

Who are the primates and what is the Primates Meeting?

The provinces and primates of the Anglican Communion are listed here.

Primates conclude Canterbury meeting ‘renewed in their ministry’

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 11:26am

[Episcopal News Service — Canterbury, England] A positive spirit has swept through the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral this week as primates from most of the Anglican Communion’s 39 provinces gathered to address issues of common interest, with many saying they feel renewed in their ministry.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, attending his second Primates Meeting, spoke about his sense of the meeting being a “holy convocation.”

“We concluded our time together washing each other’s feet, following the teaching and the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” Curry said in a video message to the church.

“This wasn’t just a meeting. This was not just a gathering. This was, as a friend of mine often says, a holy convocation. We gathered in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and we did our work together in agreement and disagreement, following and in his spirit.”

Curry said most of the conversation in the meeting was focussed outside of the church. “We spent most of our time, to be very honest, not talking about internal things in the church but, things external where the church can bring her ministry of following Jesus to bear,” he said.

A communiqué issued at the end of the Oct. 2-6 meeting reiterated the primates’ overwhelming desire to walk together in unity, albeit from a distance when faced with differences over issues of human sexuality, such as marriage equality, in their respective provinces.

Archbishop Paul Kwong of Hong Kong said during an Oct. 6 press conference that of the five Primates Meetings he has attended this one has been the best. “The best because everyone present was sincere, was committed, was honest to each other, and I could sense everyone…felt uplifted, encouraged and … we are committed not only to walking together but even walking together much closer because there is a purpose for us together; the purpose of having the Communion, which is to be relevant in the world God has called us to serve.”

The primates said they “endorsed” and “will continue with renewed commitment” the 2016 meeting’s “clear decision to walk together while acknowledging the distance that exists in our relationships due to deep differences in understanding on same-sex marriage.”

The communiqué reports that the primates “reaffirmed commitments made in 2016 regarding the LGBTI community, specifically the Communion’s sorrow for previous failures to support LGBTI people and its condemnation of homophobic prejudice and violence.”

Those close to the meeting say they are deeply moved by the positive expressions of many primates who say they feel renewed and revitalized by their experiences this week. The primates concluded their communiqué by noting that they were leaving Canterbury “enriched by the communion we share and strengthened by the faithful witness of Anglicans everywhere.”

The primates spent the better part of the meeting’s first two days discussing marriage equality and the decisions by the Scottish Episcopal Church last June and the U.S.-based Episcopal Church in 2015 to remove the definition from their canons that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Those decisions have paved the way for both churches’ congregations to offer same-sex marriage ceremonies, but have resulted in a set of consequences, requested by the primates, that restrict those two provinces from participating on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, from being appointed or elected to Anglican Communion standing committees and from taking part in decision-making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity. The consequences were first applied to the Episcopal Church at the primates January 2016 gathering and to the Scottish Episcopal Church during this week’s meeting.

The primates’ communiqué also acknowledged the pain that has been caused by cross-border interventions when a representative of one province or diocese acts in another without permission. The majority of such interventions have been orchestrated by disaffected Anglicans and former Episcopalians who’ve colluded under the umbrella of breakaway groups, such as the Anglican Church in North America or the Global Anglican Future Conference.

The primates said they agreed that the principles governing cross-border interventions have been “clearly stated from the Council of Nicaea onwards and in the 1998 Lambeth Conference.”

There are opportunities for joint initiatives and mission partnerships for the benefit of the gospel where these are agreed between provinces, the primates said in their communiqué. However, they said, consent was critical and it is “essential that courtesy and love should be extended to provinces at all times.”

The primates urged that attempts to deal with breaches of consent and courtesy should be made in regional Primates Meetings and only referred to the secretary general and the archbishop of Canterbury as a last resort.

“We recognized that persistent and deliberate non-consensual cross-border activity breaks trust and weakens our communion,” they said. “We recognized that there is a need for a season of repentance and renewal including where interventions may have happened without prior permission having being sought.”

Most of the characters who’ve attempted to influence previous meetings from the sidelines seemed to have stayed away this time. However, an ACNA representative held a media briefing earlier in the week and attempted to infiltrate the final press conference. Cathedral police escorted him off the premises.

In their communiqué, the primates confirmed that the ACNS is not a province of the Anglican Communion, adding that “we recognized that those in ACNA should be treated with love as fellow Christians.”

In its ongoing efforts towards reconciliation, the Episcopal Church has maintained that the door remains open for former Episcopalians who’ve departed over recent disagreements about biblical authority and theology, primarily centered on the full inclusion of women and LGBT people in the life of the church to return.

Three primates – Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje of Rwanda, and Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda – did not attend this week’s Primates Meeting because of the developments in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Another three – Archbishop Sturdie Downs of Central America, Archbishop Jacob Chimeledya of Tanzania, and Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo of Myanmar – missed the meeting due to a mixture of practical, health and internal country concerns, according to the Anglican Communion Office.

In other business, the primates discussed evangelism and discipleship strategies across the Anglican Communion’s 39 autonomous provinces, and addressed concerns about the persecution of religious minorities, refugees and migration. They also heard from their colleagues about how climate change and concerns about the environment are affecting their provinces.

The dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev. Robert Willis, led the primates on a late-night candlelit tour of the cathedral, stopping at the floor engraving of the Compass Rose (the symbol of the Anglican Communion) the site of the martyrdom of 12th Century Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, and the Chapel of Saints and Martyrs, which commemorates more recent Christian martyrs from around the world.

Archbishop Moon Hing of South East Asia, one of 16 new primates appointed or elected since the previous Primates Meeting in January 2016, told the Anglican Communion News Service that he’d read a lot of social media comments that the meeting is a waste of time. “But then when I come, I realized that all of us primates are actually very lonely. And it is really a good time to encourage one another … There is a whole bunch of us doing the same thing, and struggling the same way, and sometimes crying to [God], calling up to him.

“We are not alone. There are others. And now we can connect with one another and we can actually build upon the strength of one another and strengthen the weaknesses of each other. That is wonderful.”

Who are the primates and what is the Primates Meeting?

The provinces and primates of the Anglican Communion are listed here.

— Matthew Davies is advertising and web manager for the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, interim managing editor of the Episcopal news Service, and the Anglican Communion News Service contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at noon EDT Oct. 6 with more information from the primates’ communiqué. This story was also recast at 12:25 EDT Oct. 6 to add comments by Archbishop Paul Kwong.