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Church sees imperative role in racial justice, reconciliation

Thursday, August 21, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] Editor’s note: This story has been updated. Though the Ferguson police department is predominantly white, it is not all-white as previously stated.

While the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager continued to spark protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Episcopalians throughout the U.S. were grappling with a tough reality that it could have happened just about anywhere and with a difficult question: what should the church be doing about it?

Despite the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown and its violent aftermath the hope “is that it will finally be the wakeup call we need in this country to address this issue,” Bishop Stacy Sauls, Episcopal Church chief operating officer, told ENS. “Because, in my opinion, race relations in the United States have been getting worse, not better.”

Festering tensions between the predominantly white Ferguson police department and the African-American community erupted in violence after officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Brown. Conflicting eyewitness reports followed and an independent autopsy revealed Brown had been shot six times. Ferguson police subsequently identified Brown as a robbery suspect.

Regardless, local clergy and residents decried the level of police violence directed against the predominantly African-American community.

Sauls said Christian churches sparked the civil rights movement “and I think we’re seeing a very strong call for us to be involved again. One thing we can do, is bring people together to talk, not only on a local level or a regional level, but for a national conversation. That can have a very positive impact.”

Similarly, in an Aug. 20 statement young adult members of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) cited, among other things, “the subculture of prejudice against black people resulting in headline after headline of another American lying dead in neighborhood streets.”

The statement called upon UBE chapters across the country to help carry the message “so that the prophetic voice of the Episcopal Church resounds in speaking against the legacy of institutionalized oppression in the United States and across our world.”

Carrying the message: prophetic voices
Chester Hines began serving as a trainer at anti-racism workshops in the Diocese of Missouri by choice, and because of circumstance.

“I grew up in segregated St. Louis. It doesn’t matter what institution you identify in St. Louis they have always – in my experience – been segregated, even after the federal Civil Rights legislation of 1964,” said Hines, 67, an auditor and former teacher who serves in a field placement assignment at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Creve Coeur, as part of the diocesan ordination process.

Hines said that, not only was he not surprised that racial tensions erupted in nearby Ferguson after Brown’s shooting, “I was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner and in more places.”

He passed on his own life lessons to twin sons, Christian and Christopher, as they came of age, in the interest of preservation, he said. “I educated my children to understand and know about segregation, race and racism, that it existed in St. Louis,” he said. “I also told them how it manifested itself.

“I taught them as they became 10 years of age, that they would be encountered by the police, by security when they went to the mall with their friends, and they had white friends. I taught them the lessons that I knew they were going to have to learn in order to be out in the community because these were the lessons I had to learn and it hadn’t changed,” he said.

“I told them what was going to happen but, more importantly I told them, here is your response: You engage the policeman with respect and regard, yes sir, no sir. You give your name. You follow his directions, even if you have to be arrested.

“Because, here’s what’s at risk: if you aggravate or in some way convey to that policeman that you’re challenging him, he’s going to harm you in some physical way or bust your head and once your head is busted or you’re shot up, it can’t be fixed.

“However, it can be fixed if you’re taken to the jailhouse, because I can come and get you from there. But a physical confrontation, I can’t do anything about.”

Now that both sons are 31 and attorneys, he says, “Every day I wake up and say ‘Amen.’”

‘Race is so hard to talk about’ – so listen
The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, was “trying to listen to folks on the ground” in Ferguson and counseling others to do likewise.

He also invited cathedral parishioners, following the Aug. 17 main Sunday service, to spend time together, with no judgment, no comments, no arguing, just plain listening to each other. “There were tears, anger, confusion, a wide variety of feelings were represented but there was just this holy space and I realized it was grace,” he said.

“There are people who’ve said ‘I don’t have any place to say this. We are afraid of talking about race; afraid we will say the wrong thing. We need a place where we can stumble.

“This is something we can do as a church; provide that safe space, to talk about race, because race is so hard to talk about,” he said. “But, I told them all, if you’re not talking, don’t be thinking about what you’re going to say next, just listen.”

The Rev. Eric H. F. Law, an Episcopal priest and founder of the Los Angeles-based Kaleidoscope Institute, which offers leadership development and diversity training in multicultural and changing environments agreed “the first step has to be listening to the historically powerless folks.

“The big question to ask is, do you want to continue to have these sporadic explosions or do you really want to find a way to engage people so you have real relationships?” said Law, who helped to coordinate reconciliation efforts after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

“The bottom line is, do we have real friendships across racial lines in this country, and can our church facilitate that and not in a superficial way but in a way that we can really attempt to understand each other?”

Sauls said that after a Florida jury found neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman not guilty in July 2013 in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the Episcopal Church began working toward creating for the first time a missioner for racial reconciliation. In June 2014, Heidi Kim was appointed to that position and Charles Wynder was named the Episcopal Church missioner for social justice and advocacy.

“I really do believe that if we take seriously this notion that we are all members of the Body of Christ, then we have to behave differently toward one another. The first step is listening to people that think completely differently than you do,” said Kim. In her new role, she is responsible for facilitating the establishment and growth of networks in the church to confront the structural issues of racism in the church and society. Wynder is responsible for engaging Episcopalians in building, resourcing and empowering advocacy movements and networks for social justice at a local and community level.

“There was an incident in New York this summer,” said Sauls, referring to the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an African-American man, by New York City police officers, “and now the Michael Brown case, so it’s not an uncommon occurrence.”

“Unfortunately,” he said, “this is one of the saddest statements I can make, that we all knew this day would come again.”

The Interfaith Center of New York on Aug. 21 welcomed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s outreach to religious leaders as a way to “heal and deepen the relationship between police and community” in the wake of Garner’s death. “We applaud senior religious leaders for coming together for dialogue at this critical moment,” the statement said, recognizing the crucial role that grassroots faith leaders play “in maintaining peaceful co-existence in their neighborhoods.”

Anti-racism training; becoming the beloved community
For Hines and others who lead anti-racism trainings across the church, resources include the history of the Episcopal Church; the House of Bishops 1994 pastoral letter on the sin of racism; General Convention resolutions on the subject, and some basic definitions.

“We talk about the history of the Episcopal Church, and it’s mixed,” Hines said. “We had priests and leadership in the Episcopal Church that were slave owners and members of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Henry Shaw, for example, was a wealthy local landowner and philanthropist “who only in the recent past did we recognize was one of the largest slave owners in St. Louis,” Hines says. “Much of the wealth he left to the Episcopal Church came as a result of the slaves he owned.”

Agreement on definitions of words like prejudice, discrimination, bigotry also “get us to a point where we talk to each other and can understand hopefully what the other person is saying,” he said.

In Atlanta, a name change, from the diocesan antiracism commission to the “Beloved Community Commission for Dismantling Racism” shifted participants to an understanding that “we need to dismantle racism as a part of our spiritual formation and not just so we can check off the box to be on the vestry and be a priest,” said Catherine Meeks, 68, a retired college professor and commission member.

“We’ve gone from a lot of open hostility toward our training to having people invite us now to come to their individual parishes,” said Meeks, a member of St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Morrow, Georgia, near Atlanta.

Celebrating Holy Communion at the start of sessions also “focused the whole day around the umbrella that this is who we are as family; this is the work we have to do to help our family get well.”

The daughter of an Arkansas sharecropper and schoolteacher mother “we were really poor,” Meeks recalled. “We were victims, in many ways, of racism. I saw my father very wounded by that and it’s why I’ve been trying so adamantly to change it,” she said.

“I tried really hard not to pass on a lot of the fear and rage that my father had to my two sons,” she added. “And I’ve really had to work hard to overcome some of the fear.

“I tried very hard to raise my children to feel they had a place in the world and could be independent people, but with the realization they’re black in America. The systems here are not designed for the benefit of people of color,” she said.

It means, she said, living a dualistic existence. “You believe you’re a child of God and that God cares for you and you have a place in the world and you will get the blessings that are yours to have. But, you live in a land where there are a lot of systems designed to keep that from happening, and you have to live in the reality of that.”

Hope: ‘in the church we have a chance’
Sauls said that follow-ups are in the planning stages for groundbreaking events like the Nov. 2013 Episcopal Church’s “Fifty Years Later: the State of Race in America” in Jackson, Mississippi, and an Oct. 2008 service of repentance at the historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia.

He said the Episcopal Church’s Office of Justice and Advocacy Ministries is compiling resources for communities of faith “to begin conversations. We’re beginning to start to bring leaders across the church together to continue the conversation and to build on the work we did last November” in Jackson.

Kinman said that he had received offers from colleagues across the country, to come to Ferguson to join protests.

“I’m telling people that, wherever you are in this country, if you really want to help, then use this moment of opportunity and gather your congregation, your people, and ask the question, why do you think this is happening?” he said.

“Do some education about race and class, power and privilege. Ask the questions: who in your community is Michael Brown? Who in your community would be those folks on the streets of Ferguson right now? What is their experience of being black or brown in your community?”

Meeks agreed. “This situation in Ferguson just highlights that we’ve been trying to pretend we’re at some place we’re not. It could be anywhere in the country, and we know this. Ferguson is just one little tip of the iceberg. We really need to pay attention.”

But there is much cause for hope, especially within the church, she said.

“My hope lies in the fact that I believe in the church we have a chance. Celebrating Holy Communion is so important because it reminds us that we’re committed to something bigger than ourselves. I just believe the church is the place where we can develop real dialogue, real trust and model a different way to be with one another,” she added.

“We’ve got a long way to go to get there, but I think we stand a chance if we are willing to be open to what we say we believe.”

Hines said he contradicted a participant at an antiracism training he led last week in Sikeston, who told him real change seemed impossible.

“My hope is eternal but change is very slow, he said. “I reminded him that, prior to 1964 and the Civil Rights legislation, I could not have come to Sikeston and stayed anyplace but with a relative. Change is possible if we agree it is and move forward in that direction.”

He added: “I think of this work as necessary and vital to the salvation of the Episcopal Church. We look at our history and then we look at our current events and then we identify for ourselves what do we want to look like 10 years from now.”

–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

RIP: Retired Western Massachusetts Bishop Andrew Wissemann

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Frederick Wissemann, the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Andrew Frederick Wissemann, the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, died peacefully at home early on the morning of Aug. 20.

“Bishop Wissemann served the people of this diocese with clarity of purpose and compassion during his eight-year episcopate,” said current Bishop Douglas Fisher in announcing the death.

“A soft-spoken, self-effacing, scholarly man whose genuineness and sympathy were immediately apparent to all, he was, by gift and temperament, more inclined toward the pastoral model of a bishop than the lordly,” wrote diocesan historian Richard Nunley in Fisher’s statement.

Wissemann, 86, was elected as Western Massachusetts’ bishop in 1983, was consecrated in 1984 and served until 1992. He had been the rector of St. Stephen’s in Pittsfield for 16 years when he was elected and he also extended pastoral care to St. Martin’s in Pittsfield and St. Luke’s, Lanesboro, according to Fisher. Wissemann also served the diocese in the department of finance and administration. He was also rector of St. James, Greenfield from 1960-1968 following seven years with churches in the Diocese of Connecticut.

The bishop was ordained a deacon in May 1953 and was priested in December of that year.

“The life of any bishop cannot be adequately measured by a list of achievements, though Bishop Wissemann had many. The only measure is the standard of the Gospel and Bishop Wissemann proclaimed the Good News in word, in deed and in the example of Christian family life,” Fisher wrote. “Our hearts go out to Andrew’s wife, Nancy, who has been partner to his mission and ministry for 61 years, to his son, his three daughters, and his five grandchildren. It was my privilege to enter the sacred space of his dying last night to pray with him and his family in their vigil of hope and faith.”

People may call at Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield on Aug. 24 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The burial office is set for Aug. 25 at 11:00 a.m. in the cathedral.

St. Michael’s calls Katharine G. Flexer as new rector

Thursday, August 21, 2014

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, which has occupied the same location on Manhattan’s Upper West Side since its founding in 1807, has called the Rev. Katharine G. Flexer to be its 11th Rector — the first woman to hold the position.

Flexer is a native of the Seattle area and a former associate rector at St. Michael’s. Since 2011 she has been Rector of the Episcopal Church in Almaden (ECA) in San Jose, California.

“St. Michael’s became a part of me when I was there,” Flexer said. “I hope to increase the church’s presence in the neighborhood. Our mission is to serve God in the community.”

“Kate’s shining qualities as a priest and as a person were uppermost in our minds as we made this decision,” said Michael Smith, one of the wardens of the parish. “But it has not escaped our notice that we have also made a bit of very pleasing history in calling the parish’s first woman Rector.”

The appointment followed an extended search that drew applicants from across the U.S. and abroad.

Flexer is joined by her husband Jim Hinch, a journalist who covers religion for the Orange County Register and other publications, and their children Frances and Benjamin, who were born in New York City during the family’s earlier stint at St. Michael’s.

Flexer is an avid runner who has twice completed the Boston Marathon. She and her family share a passion for hiking and camping in the backwoods.

Flexer graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, with her junior year abroad at Strasbourg University in France. She earned a master of divinity degree from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, and took part in a postgraduate study exchange at Ripon College Cuddesdon in Oxford.

Flexer is known for her gifts as a preacher, pastor and educator, with a special talent for bringing the next generation into parish life – from children to young adults. For three summers she has co-led the Family Camp of the Diocese of California.

At St. Michael’s, Flexer helped create a successful Sunday evening service to engage the unchurched, the lapsed and anybody who prefers an alternative style of worship.

In Almaden, Flexer led a drive to engage her congregation in the life of the community beyond the church walls, using the tools of broad-based community organizing. Working with a local organizer from the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and other colleagues in the area, ECA began to deepen relationships and develop leadership in the congregation while building connections with other institutions around common interests.

“All those skills complement her new role at St. Michael’s and help us to strengthen our outreach,” noted Kris Ishibashi, one of the wardens of the parish.

Among the parish’s community ministries are its Saturday Kitchen (open since 1983) and the Pilgrim Resource Center, which serve hundreds of guests every weekend, and a relatively new program, Careersearchers, a job-search support group.

St. Michael’s also helps support a ministry to families in need at nearby Trinity Lutheran Church, and members of the parish prepare meals for residents of Trinity’s shelter for homeless LGTBQ youth.

St. Michael’s occupies a campus of three 1890s-vintage buildings: the church itself, the parish house and the rectory. Louis Comfort Tiffany created the church’s seven stained-glass windows (more than a story high) surrounding the apse, as well as the reredos in the Chapel of the Angels.

A reconsecrated altar in the north end of the sanctuary came from St. Jude’s Chapel, founded in 1909, a ministry of St. Michael’s to the African-American community on West 99th Street, until the chapel was destroyed by a midcentury “urban-renewal” project.

Music plays a very significant role in the life of St. Michael’s, during services and in community performances. The church maintains four choirs, from young children through adults, and holds two organs by the well-known builder Rudolf von Beckerath.

Flexer returns to a parish of more than 600 individuals from more than 300 households whose demographics reflect its diverse neighborhood.

Since 1852 the church has operated St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens, open to people of all faiths, or none. Annual observances at the historic Cemetery include a concert honoring composer Scott Joplin, who is buried there; a remembrance honoring police, fire and first responders during the 9/11 attacks; and a fundraiser to support children of those who died from working on the World Trade Center cleanup.

St. Michael’s fortunes have always been linked to those of its neighborhood. The church archives record that during the 1960s the once-thriving parish was so precarious that the Bishop of New York considered closing the church and selling the cemetery. The parish rebounded in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

Flexer’s rectorate begins a new era at an old but lively church. She will take up her duties on Dec. 14, the third Sunday of Advent.

Episcopal Relief & Development reaffirms support for Gaza hospital

Thursday, August 21, 2014

[Episcopal Relief & Development press release] Episcopal Relief & Development reaffirms its support for Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, an institution of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, as it responds to critical humanitarian needs during the current conflict.

The organization’s support has enabled Al-Ahli Hospital to procure fuel to run its generators, which are crucial during frequent and prolonged electricity outages, and to provide food parcels to community members in need, in addition to patients and staff.

“Since the beginning of the crisis, Al-Ahli Hospital staff have maintained an around-the-clock presence at the hospital, receiving wounded people and providing them with the critical medical care that they need,” stated the Diocese of Jerusalem’s August 15 situation report.

According to the same report, the hospital has received 3,300 emergency cases since the current crisis began in mid-July and is presently treating 30 severely injured people in in-patient care.  Al-Ahli receives on average 55 conflict-related burn cases per day, and an average of 150 new patients per day – mostly children ­– suffering from chest infections, diarrhea, rashes and scabies due to inadequate hygiene (overcrowding combined with lack of refuse collection) and shortages of water and food.

Temporary cease-fires provide time for hospital staff to assess needs and resources, and for ambulance workers and other rescuers to bring injured people to care centers.  Many of Gaza’s hospitals and clinics have sustained damage and others have been closed because of lack of staff and supplies or being in insecure locations.  Consequently, the remaining centers are working beyond capacity to meet urgent needs.

Looking ahead, Al-Ahli identifies providing psychosocial care for women and children as a top priority, in addition to ongoing medical care for burns and other injuries.  Shortages of fuel and medical supplies threaten to limit the hospital’s ability to respond to emerging needs.

As of August 20, according to UN OCHA, 1,999 Palestinians (including 1,417 civilians) and 67 Israelis (including three civilians) have died in the renewed violence.  The WHO reports that more than 10,000 Palestinians have been injured, and UNRWA states that 400,000 people are currently displaced.

“I urge all Episcopalians to continue to keep in their prayers those affected by conflict in the Holy Land,” said Rob Radtke, President of Episcopal Relief & Development.  “Please also pray for all who are working steadfastly to relieve suffering and build peace – in the Palestinian Territories and Israel, and throughout the region in thesechallenging times.”

To enable Episcopal Relief & Development to continue its support of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem’s response to urgent needs, please contribute to the Middle East Fund.

WCC expresses solidarity with churches, people in Ferguson shooting

Thursday, August 21, 2014

[World Council of Churches press release] In the wake of a racially charged police shooting in the state of Missouri, United States, “the efforts of the churches, faith communities, ecumenical and interfaith partners and civil society organizations and coalitions that have called for prayer, calm, peaceful protest, and open and honest dialogue on racism and issues of class” have received support and encouragement from the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Writing to the Interfaith Partnership of Greater Saint Louis, general secretary of the WCC, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit praised area churches and religious communities that have sought an end to conflict in the aftermath of “the tragic killing by a police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed eighteen-year-old African American man, and the dangerous escalation of violence in the several days following.”

Tveit also praised their common efforts toward building peace, the promotion of healing within the community and a process of reconciliation at local and national levels.

On Monday, Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the U.S.A., deplored the killing of Michael Brown and others like it, called for a thorough investigation of the shooting, and drew attention to the larger issues raised by such deaths.

“These killings, as well as those of hundreds of other Americans each year at the hands of increasingly militarized police forces [are] of great and growing concern. A peaceful, healthy society requires trust and positive relationships between citizens and law enforcement. That can best occur in circumstances in which deep-seated social problems such as racism and inequality are being addressed,” said Winkler.

Reiterating the WCC’s condemnation of “the use of violence as a means of resolving conflicts,” Tveit assured the family of Michael Brown and the wider community of “the prayers of this global fellowship of churches,” and support for “honest examination and reform related to policing policies and practices.”

Full text of the letter to the Interfaith Partnership from the WCC

Statement on Michael Brown’s death by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

A prayer for Ferguson offered by the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

A report from the region’s bishop of the United Methodist Church

An account from a Saint Louis pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Message on Ferguson Crisis from Christian Church (Disciples of Christ in United States and Canada)

WCC member churches in the United States of America

Virginia bishop writes to diocese on same-sex marriage

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Editors’ note: Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston issued the following letter to the diocese Aug. 20 shortly before the United State Supreme Court issued an order delaying the beginning of same-sex marriages in the state less than a day before couple could begin seeking marriage licenses.

Dear Diocesan Family,

Recent court decisions in Virginia and around the nation are shining a spotlight once again on issues relating to same-sex marriage. These are matters that generate passions that range from joy to anger. At this important time for our Diocese and our commonwealth, we have an opportunity to reflect on how we can constructively and compassionately deal with issues that continue to challenge our society and our Church.

As Christians, we are called on to bear witness to our faith in the public square. The strength of Anglicanism is that we can do so with conviction and passion, while recognizing that we are not of one mind. Indeed, it is that very diversity that makes our Church a powerful force for reconciliation in the world.

On the issue of same-sex marriage, some of our members, both clergy and lay, feel called to demonstrate their support in the public square – indeed literally on the courthouse steps. Others feel called to make a distinction between the blessing of same-sex unions and holy matrimony. Still others respond with a defense of traditional marriage. Honoring these differences in no way diminishes the power of our witness; it strengthens it.

I support our clergy who want to bear witness to their sense of justice and equality in marrying gay persons when and if that becomes legally possible in Virginia. But I also would note that, as is the case with heterosexual marriage, clergy who might officiate at same-gender marriages outside the pastoral relationships of our communities of faith do so as agents of the commonwealth, and not in the context of the liturgical life and witness of our Church.

Meanwhile, as the debate over same-sex marriage (distinct from the blessing of unions) continues in the councils of our Church, I emphasize that, as is again the case with heterosexual marriage, no priest of this Diocese will be required to officiate at marriage rites that their conscience cannot allow. Clergy who hold such restrictions of conscience also have my support in their convictions.

I pray that our actions relating to these important issues will continue to be guided by our love for one another, and by our willingness to honor the voices of those who call us in justice to move in new directions, as well as the voices of those who call us in faith to hold on to the best of our tradition.

It is at times like these when we can demonstrate to the world what it truly means to love our neighbors. Witnessing for justice, living into our diversity in faith … we are called to do both.


The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston

2 Episcopal priests among El Salvador bishop nominees

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] The Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador recently named five priests, including two in the Episcopal Church, as candidates to be its next bishop.

The five nominees are:

  • The Rev. Ricardo Bernal, Diocese of El Salvador;
  • The Rev. Juan David Alvarado, Diocese of El Salvador;
  • The Rev. Juan Antonio Méndez, Diocese of El Salvador;
  • The Rev. Vidal Rivas, senior priest, St. Matthew’s/San Mateo Parish, Hyattsville, Maryland, Diocese of Washington; and
  • The Rev. Lee Alison Crawford, vicar, Church of Our Saviour at Mission Farm and canon missioner to El Salvador, Diocese of Vermont.

The person elected on Aug. 23 will succeed Bishop Martin de Jesús Barahona, who has led the diocese since 1992.

The Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador is a part of Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America (Anglican Church in Central America), along with the dioceses of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama.

West Africa archbishop urges Anglicans to pray for Ebola crisis

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Most Rev. Daniel Sarfo, primate and metropolitan of the Church of the Province of West Africa (CPWA) and bishop of Kumasi in Ghana, has called on Christians around the world to dedicate one Sunday as a day of prayer for the deadly Ebola disease that has struck the west African region.

In an interview with ACNS, Sarfo said: “We encourage Anglican churches world over to express solidarity by observing one Sunday as Ebola Sunday and to mobilize resources for the sub-region.”

Anglicans can help
The archbishop reiterated the important role that Anglicans in other countries can play in as far as mobilizing and bringing resources to the region. “Anglicans should challenge their governments to send resources, especially medical supplies to the affected areas,” he said.

Recently, Archbishop Jonathan Bonaparte Hart of the Internal Province of West Africa in CPWA, of which the affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are a part, also raised up the need for material support when he said: “We need disposable surgical gloves, chlorine and basic hygiene kits to safeguard against Ebola.”

Government action
Ghana has not recorded any cases of the disease and Sarfo explained how the government there is trying to make sure the disease is prevented and does not cross borders.

“In Ghana, a lot of education about the prevention of the disease is going on from the government through the Ministry of Health and church facilities of which the Anglican Church has quite a number,” he said. “The government has also provided equipment and materials through the Ministry of Health to the various health facilities while strict screening centers have been established at the airports and borders.”

Church preventive measures
In this challenging period, the Anglican Church in Ghana is still trying to live up to its social and prophetic role by introducing a number of preventive measures to help handle the threat posed by Ebola. As well as working with partner agencies to equip church health facilities, it is also providing guidance on how to pray for an end to this crisis, and those who have already been affected.

Education is key
Sarfo said the church is encouraging clergy to use the pulpit to educate and sensitize their congregations about the disease. Clergy have also been told to postpone the traditional practice of having congregants share a common communion cup.

“The communion can be received either by ‘intinction’, the practice of partly dipping the consecrated bread, or host, into the consecrated wine before consumption, or best by using individual small cups,” he said.

Recently, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, also modified the administration of Holy Communion and suspended the shaking of hands during the exchange of the peace in his province, a measure aimed at preventing the spread of the disease.

The World Health Organization reports that this year’s Ebola outbreak is one of the largest in history and the first in West Africa with approximately 2,220 reported cases and 1,226 deaths. It has affected four countries in West Africa including Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Oran en Liberia porque ‘el ébola pase’

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Soldados liberianos revisan a las personas que ingresan en el condado de Bomi el 11 de agosto. Tropas liberianas han establecido puestos de control del ébola e impiden el acceso público a algunas de las ciudades más afectadas después de que el país declarara un estado de emergencia para contener el peor brote de la enfermedad que se conoce. Foto de Reuters.

[Episcopal News Service] El arzobispo de Liberia, Jonathan Bau-Bau Bonaparte Hart, está orando a Dios que esta [epidemia del] ébola pase” en África Occidental y su pueblo recobre pronto la salud.

Hart, que conversó con Episcopal News Service el 18 de agosto por vía telefónica desde su oficina en la catedral de La Trinidad de Monrovia, pasó el día anterior visitando iglesias de todas las denominaciones en la capital para instar a las personas a practicar las medidas preventivas que los trabajadores sanitarios y del gobierno están pidiendo que se tomen y “a abstenerse de cualquier cosa que nos traiga el ébola”.

También el 18 de agosto, Hart envío una carta de dos pliegos por correo electrónico a ENS en la que explicaba que un comunicado reciente del Consejo Liberiano de Iglesias sobre la necesidad de orar por el brote del ébola había sido alterado por una persona desconocida para incluir una referencia a la homosexualidad y divulgarlo luego en los medios de prensa. Hart es el presidente del Consejo.

El periódico Liberian Observer informó el 31 de julio que el Consejo había pedido tres días de “ayuno y oración a puertas cerradas” en toda la nación, del 6 al 8 de agosto. El periódico decía que el primer acuerdo de la resolución en la que se pedían estas jornadas de oración decía “que Dios estaba enojado con Liberia, y que el ébola es una plaga. Los liberianos tienen que orar y buscar el perdón de Dios por la corrupción y [la comisión de] actos inmorales (tales como el homosexualismo, etc.) que sigue penetrando en nuestra sociedad. Como cristianos, debemos arrepentirnos y buscar el perdón de Dios”.

En su carta a ENS, Hart escribió que el llamado a la oración surgió de una reunión del Consejo en la que los líderes de la Iglesia recurrieron a la Escritura para entender que estaban “en medio de una plaga” y que, al igual que los hijos de Israel, ellos y la nación eran llamados a orar, a ayunar y a arrepentirse.

“Según hablábamos del estado de nuestra nación y de cómo los más vulnerables de nuestra sociedad —las mujeres, los niños, los pobres, los que no son capaces de expresarse siguen sufriendo las consecuencias de una nación en postguerra que aún carece de atención sanitaria, educación y soportes económicos básicos—, nosotros, los líderes, sentimos que si Dios está enojado con nosotros, debemos haber hecho algo contra la voluntad de Dios”.

Los miembros del Consejo convinieron en que la nación necesitaba arrepentirse de “sus faltas, que incluyen avaricia, corrupción y falta de mayordomía en el cuidado de nuestra nación y de su pueblo”.

El debate durante la reunión incluyó una conversación acerca de la sexualidad humana. El Consejo es teológicamente diverso “y en consecuencia interpretamos las enseñanzas sobre la sexualidad humana en más de un sentido”, escribió Hart.

“Si bien todos estamos de acuerdo con la protección de las personas de actos de violencia sexual, algunos de mis colegas creen que la orientación sexual de nuestros hermanos [hombres y mujeres] homosexuales es contraria a la voluntad de Dios”, dijo él en su carta.

Sin embargo, no hubo ningún acuerdo de mencionar la sexualidad humana en la declaración del Consejo de Iglesias, escribió Hart y “ni yo ni mis colegas que tienen un punto de vista diferente sobre la sexualidad humana aprobamos la inclusión de la palabra ‘homosexualidad’ como algo de lo cual la nación tenga que arrepentirse”.

“Alguien decidió incluir esa palabra” en un comunicado en que él creía que todos los miembros habían estado de acuerdo, escribió Hart.

El arzobispo, inmediatamente después de la reunión, viajó a la parte sur de Liberia y —escribió— sin acceso a Internet no tuvo “manera de saber lo que decía el comunicado” hasta que regresó a Monrovia para encontrarse con llamadas de “episcopales liberianos muy enojados, tanto en Liberia como en otras partes del mundo”.

En la carta del 18 de agosto, Hart escribió que, como presidente del Consejo de Iglesias él debía haber ‘revisado personalmente la versión final del comunicado y haberla editado”.

“Lamento profundamente no haberlo hecho”, escribió él.

Hart pidió disculpas a “a todas y cada una de las personas a quienes haya lastimado esa declaración” y escribió que esperaba que los problemas del comunicado no definieran el “increíble testimonio” de su Iglesia en Liberia.

El arzobispo liberiano Jonathan Bau-Bau Bonaparte Hart

Testimonio fiel en Liberia
Ese testimonio está anclado en la fe. Los liberianos siempre han recurrido a su fe en tiempos difíciles, escribió el arzobispo, “desde la ejecución de ciertos funcionarios del gobierno, que eran algunos de nuestros feligreses y parientes, cuando el sangriento golpe de Estado militar, hasta los 14 años de insensata y cruenta guerra civil que atestiguó el peor comportamiento humano y ahora este virus del ébola”.

Hart dijo que el ébola es una guerra nueva y diferente. “A diferencia de la guerra donde sabíamos que había soldados y rebeldes armados y motivados por un profundo odio, esta nueva guerra es silente, invisible, pero igualmente devastadora”.

Los trabajadores sanitarios de Monrovia, la capital de Liberia, se sienten abrumados por su empeño de recoger y disponer adecuadamente de los cadáveres de los que han muerto de ébola, dijo Hart a ENS. A veces a la gente se le agota la paciencia de esperar y “a veces recurren a accesos de violencia para atraer a la policía”,.

La violencia del fin de semana en una clínica para exámenes y supervisión de personas que habían estado expuestas al ébola ocurrió, según lo que Hart supo, porque los residentes de la comunidad vecina pensaban que los pacientes en efecto sí tenían ébola. Atacaron la clínica “y se llevaron algunos de los materiales del centro de salud”, apuntó.

Nuevos informes del ataque ocurrido en lo que Hart llamó “uno de las peores áreas marginales” de Monrovia, daba cuenta de que las sábanas y los colchones ensangrentados también se los habían llevado y que 17 personas que estaban ingresadas en la clínica habían desaparecido. Según Hart, las personas también luchan con los sentimientos contradictorios de cuidar a los miembros de su familia enfermos y preparar los cadáveres de los que han muerto con la necesidad de no ponerse en contacto con los fluidos corporales a través de los cuales el ébola, que es un virus hemorrágico, se propaga.

Dijo además que él y otros en las iglesias y en el gobierno están instando a las personas a crear puestos para lavarse las manos y a lavarse las manos con frecuencia en agua tratada con cloro.

Además, hay personas que “aún no creen que lo que está ocurriendo es el ébola —que aún no creen que hay ébola en nuestro país”, dijo Hart.


Las muertes del ébola aumentan a través del África Occidental

El actual brote de ébola comenzó en Guinea en diciembre de 2013 y ahora afecta Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria y Sierra Leona, según la Organización Mundial de la Salud de las Naciones Unidas.

El 15 de agosto, la OMS dijo que del 12 al 13 de agosto, se había reportado un total de 152 casos nuevos del virus del ébola (casos confirmados en el laboratorio, probables y presuntos) así como 76 muertes reportadas de Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria y Sierra Leona. Desde que comenzara el brote, ha habido 2.127 casos confirmados en el laboratorio, probables y presuntos y 1.145 muertes entre las probadas en el laboratorio, las probables y las presuntas, dijo la organización.

“La escala, duración y letalidad del brote del ébola ha generado un alto nivel de temor y ansiedad públicos, que transcienden al África Occidental” decía otro comunicado de prensa de la OMS. “Tales reacciones son comprensibles, dada la elevada tasa de fatalidad y la ausencia de una vacuna o de una cura”.

La organización reconoció que las personas están buscando curas en todas partes y que algunos están poniendo esperanzas en productos y terapias peligrosos. “Todos los rumores de cualesquier otros productos o terapias efectivos son falsos”, dijo la OMS en el comunicado. “Su uso puede ser peligroso. En Nigeria, por ejemplo, al menos dos personas murieron después de tomar agua salada, que se rumoreaba que los protegería”.

“Las conductas personales más efectivas consisten en evitar situaciones de alto riesgo bien conocidas, reconocer los síntomas de la infección y reportarlos a tiempo para [ser objeto] de análisis y atención medica. La evidencia sugiere que la atención en las primeras etapas aumenta las posibilidades de supervivencia”, dice también el comunicado.

La organización también prevenía a las personas de no confiar en la extensa eficacia de los medicamentos experimentales para tratar el ébola, que se autorizaron la semana pasada, debido a problemas de inocuidad, dificultad de administrarlos en esos escenarios y al limitado suministro de las drogas.

La OMS ha calificado el brote como “el más extenso, grave y complejo”, desde que la enfermedad se detectó por primera vez en Zaire, ahora República Democrática del Congo, en 1976. La enfermedad causó la muerte de 280 personas durante ese brote, según el Centro para el Control y Prevención de Enfermedades de Estados Unidos.

—La Rda. Mary Frances Schjonberg es redactora y reportera de Episcopal News Service. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.

Renewed support for relief efforts in Syria

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

[Episcopal Relief & Development press release] Episcopal Relief & Development has renewed its support of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches’ (FMEEC) relief efforts in Syria.

FMEEC aims to reach 500 families in towns west of Homs – the epicenter of Syria’s civil war – including Mashta el Helu, Kafroun, Wadi Nasara, and Tartous.

“The project will provide a three-month distribution of much needed food items and rent subsidies to help mainly displaced women, children and elderly cope with the severely deteriorating economic conditions, and to aid in restoring dignity of life,” FMEEC stated.

In addition to the immediate challenges of living in a conflict zone, individuals and families are facing extreme inflation and economic depression due to the collapse of regional commerce and devaluation of the local currency.  Factories have closed, causing job losses and shortages of basic goods, and fuel prices have soared, further hampering trade.

Although some families have managed to remain in their homes despite the conflict, many have been forced to relocate, leaving behind their homes and livelihoods and uncertain when they may be able to return.  In addition to securing sufficient food and other necessities, another major challenge is finding and paying for lodging with limited or no income.  FMEEC is providing food vouchers and rent assistance through local churches to assist those most vulnerable, particularly elderly people, widows and families with children.

UN OCHA estimates that approximately 10.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the ongoing conflict in Syria, including 6.45 million internally displaced people.  An additional 2.9 million people have fled the country as refugees.

The most recent death toll from the conflict in Syria exceeds 100,000 people, according to the UN, though the agency reportedly stopped updating this information in July 2014 due to a dwindling of credible sources.  Advocacy groups claim the number exceeds 160,000.  Estimates of the number of homes destroyed range from 700,000 to 1.2 million.

In September 2013, Episcopal Relief & Development supported FMEEC’s relief efforts around Homs, which at that time similarly helped to serve over 100 households with food, non-food items and/or housing vouchers.  In addition, support was also provided to the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf’s assistance to Syrians with hearing, vision, physical or cognitive disabilities in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

The Fellowship of the Middle East Evangelical Churches is an association of the Evangelical (Protestant) churches of the Middle East, of which the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East/Diocese of Jerusalem is a member.

Please continue to pray for those impacted by the conflict in Syria, and for those seeking to provide critical assistance and build foundations for peace.

Hear my people’s cry for peace

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We mourn for the persecuted Christians in Iraq and elsewhere.

Christians and Muslims have been neighbors in the Middle East for many centuries. History is filled with incidents that have challenged Christians to fulfill their vocation of “loving thy neighbor,” to live in harmony and respect for the dignity of our fellow human beings as followers of Jesus Christ. Yet the world around us is full of the news of war, hatred and persecution. We wonder at times how this madness comes into play in the global village of the 21st century. We are meant to live in harmony and peace and to respect the rights of those with whom we may differ.

ISIS the Islamic State is butchering in the name of Islam thousands of children, raping Christian and Yazidi women, beheading thousands of men, looting their properties, bombing, and desecrating their holy shrines and worship places. It is all supposedly done in the name of religion quoting from Qur’an: “There is no God but Allah, and his prophet is Muhammad.” I find nothing wrong with this statement itself, as part of the profession of faith for each Muslim. It is a continuation of the tradition of the Abrahamic faith communities.

At least 27 biblical passages explicitly teach and clearly declare this cardinal truth that there is one and only one true living God. Here are two examples:

To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there no other beside him” (Deuteronomy 4:35).

“I am the first and I am the last: beside me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6).

The Christian profession of faith in the Nicene Creed is: “I believe in one God…” Jews, Christians and Muslims come from a common tradition of believing in one God. According to the Qur’an, God has spoken to humankind through many prophets and messengers, including biblical figures like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and John the Baptist. Jesus is one of the most important and prominent figures in the Qur’an; he is mentioned 93 times by name in the sacred scripture of Islam. There is no ambiguity there. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are talking about the same deity.[1]

Yet Pakistan designates itself the “Fort of Islam” and has passed blasphemy law to persecute, massacre, jail and harass religious minorities. Boko Haram in Nigeria, in the name of Islam, has kidnapped hundreds of innocent Christian girls to rape and to force into converting to Islam. In Iran Bah’is, Christians, Sunni and Dervish Muslims are persecuted. In Egypt, Coptic Christians, a most ancient community, are systematically harassed and tortured. Sudan Islamic government has killed more than 2 million Christians and Darfurian black Muslims and displaced millions as refugees.

Now the newest player, ISIS the Islamic State, is on stage with a vicious agenda to purify the Middle East by committing outrages on the Christian and Yazidi communities. These communities lived in Iraq and Syria before the dawn of Islam. His Holiness Louis Rapheal Sako, the Christian Chaldean patriarch of Babylon has said there are over 150,000 Christians who have fled their homes toward the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Duhok and Soulaymiya.

In Mosul, Iraq, ISIS offered Christians an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious submission tax, or face the sword. Christian homes are marked with red paint with the Arabic letter “N” (Nazarene) for extermination or expropriation. This community has had to run for their lives. Some of their men were crucified and women were forcibly given to militants as booty. Now Mosul has no Christians and their churches have been desecrated. Thirty churches and monasteries in Mosul and the Syriac Orthodox cathedral have been converted into mosques.

A Yazidi woman Vian Dahkeel, a member of the Iraqi Parliament, gave a very emotional speech in the parliament on Aug. 5 about the extermination of her community in the name of Islam: “There is a genocide taking against Yazidis. We are being butchered under the name “There is no God but Allah.” Our women are being sold in slave markets. We are being wiped out by ISIS. I am speaking in the name of humanity. Please save us.”

We hear the cries of innocent people from Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan and throughout the Middle East. Atrocities are being committed in the name of religion. We are often reminded in the West that “Islam is the religion of peace.” Qur’an teaches “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Surah al-Baqarah 256). Then what is wrong with this picture?

I remember growing up in a Muslim country where the Imam on Friday in his sermon often made statements such as “Death to Jews, Death to Christians, Death to Hindus, Death to America.” Graffiti on the walls would also show such hateful religious propaganda. Decades of preaching hate has created dangerous militants acting as human missiles of hate to destroy their own existence and their neighbors too. This hate is an acid which diminishes the face of humanity.

Christianity was once widespread in Babylonia, Susiana, Fars, Khuzistan, on the eastern coast of Arabia, in Bahrain, and in Oman; it had infiltrated as far as Afghanistan and China.[2] In the seventh century there were large numbers of Christians in Saudi Arabia. By the time of Prophet Muhammad’s death (632) Muslims had conquered these territories and they were not tolerant of other faith communities. Arab Idolaters had to choose between death or conversion; as for Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, if they paid tribute and accepted the conditions of conquest, they could buy back their right to life, freedom of worship, and security of property.[3] The history of religion has many bloody chapters. Christians have their own dark ages of Crusades in the middle ages.

Now we live in the 21st century, where the reality has changed. Millions of Muslims have by choice migrated to the west. They live next door to Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians as good neighbors. In western countries, we are engaged in interfaith dialogue for building better understanding. But we confront a very serious situation as the Middle East is burning and Christians in many majority Muslim countries are facing extermination.

So far, not a single leader of an Islamic nation, not an Imam or Sheikh, has condemned atrocities being committed in the name of “There is no God but Allah.” Muslim religious and civil rights groups exercise full freedom of religion in the west. I believe there are people of goodwill among the Islamic community. I beg them and all people of goodwill not to stay silent spectators. Elie Wiesel during his Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986 said these famous words:

            “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and

            humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the

            victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Islam does not need to be hijacked by extremists but needs the “Gospel of Peace.” The Christian Church is empowered by Jesus Christ to proclaim his message of healing and reconciliation. Please join us to build bonds of friendship and break down the walls of hatred which separate us. Christ calls us to focus on the two-fold mandate — to love God and to love our neighbors. We can do both by recognizing and repeating these truths among people of all faiths, even the faithless.

Without doubt, religion is the most powerful force on earth. When religion becomes corrupt and begins to kill and destroy, it turns evil. Following God’s precepts we can work together for peace and goodwill on earth. The Qur’an provides wise words that celebrate our diversity: “If God had so willed, He would have created you one community, but [has not done so] that He may test you in what He has given you; so compete with one another in good works. To God you shall all return and He will tell you the truth about that which you have been disputing” (al-Ma`idah 5:48)

We beg our Muslim brothers to join hands with us to pray and work together for peace and brotherhood on earth.

– The Rev. Canon Patrick Augustine is rector of Christ Episcopal Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

[1] Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil, HarperSanFrancisco, 2002, p.50.

[2] Francois Nau, L’Expansion Nestorienne en Asie (Paris 1914); Michael G. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton 1984).

[3] Bat Ye’or, The Declone of Eastern Christianity under Islam, Associated University Presses, 1996, PP.33-39

NCC statement regarding the death of Michael Brown

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

[National Council of Churches press release] The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA deplores the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, MO on August 9 and supports a complete investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Brown.

Further, the Council expresses grave concern over the recent killings by police of several other African American men including on July 17, 43 year old Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY; on August 5, 22 year old John Crawford in Beavercreek, OH; and on August 11, 25 year old Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, CA.

“These killings, as well as those of hundreds of other Americans each year at the hands of increasingly militarized police forces is of great and growing concern. A peaceful, healthy society requires trust and positive relationships between citizens and law enforcement. That can best occur in circumstances in which deep-seated social problems such as racism and inequality are being addressed,” said Jim Winkler, NCC president and general secretary.

“The NCC remains committed to addressing the legacy of racism, to ending gun violence in our nation, to responding to the scourge of mass incarceration, and through our local congregations to providing Christ’s healing touch,” Winkler added.

Rev. Dr. Roy Medley, chair of the NCC Governing Board said, “We pray for the family of Michael Brown and for all those who have been harmed in the turmoil in Ferguson. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and we are still seeking an America where young men of color are neither disproportionately imprisoned nor are victims of violence. We are grateful for the efforts of local church leaders and churches that are at work in the community in response to this devastating tragedy and the ongoing issues of racial injustice that it has surfaced.”

Throughout its existence, the National Council of Churches, the collective voice of 37 member communions with nearly 40 million members, has stood for human rights and peace.

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s 37 member communions — from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches — include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

Responding ecumenically to crisis in Iraq

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

[Episcopal Relief & Development press release] Episcopal Relief & Development is responding ecumenically to the current crisis in Iraq through the ACT Alliance, in support of Christian Aid UK’s relief activities.

ACT Alliance is a coalition of more than 140 churches and affiliated organizations active in over 140 countries.  In an update, the organization noted that implementing member Christian Aid has been responding to the Syrian refugee crisis since 2012, and recently expanded its operations to provide relief to Iraqis displaced by violence.

According to the Christian Aid situation report, “In recent weeks, attacks by [Islamic State militants] in the Ninewa province of Iraq have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.  Many of them are persecuted religious minorities, including Yazidis and Christians.”

Christian Aid is currently acting through local partners including REACH (Rehabilitation, Education and Community Health) to distribute food, hygiene kits and other necessities such as children’s clothes to families who have fled active conflict zones in the northern mountains.  This most recent wave of internally displaced people (IDPs) have taken refuge in towns from Dahuk to Suleymaniyah and as far south as Diyala Province and Karbala.

UN OCHA stated that more than 1.2 million people have been displaced since the beginning of 2014.  UNHCR estimates that 700,000 people are taking refuge in the Kurdistan region, including 400,000 in Dahuk Governorate alone.

The humanitarian crisis in Iraq encompasses an additional 1 million Iraqis who were already internally displaced by conflict as of December 2013, and over 200,000 Syrian refugees residing in the country as well.

On August 12, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued a call for a day of prayer for Iraq on August 17.  The following day, the Anglican Alliance posted an article with excerpts of statements from Anglican Primates and Church-affiliated aid agencies around the world in response to the crisis.

“We face the reality that hundreds of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities are currently on the run throughout northern and western Iraq, displaced from their homes, with only the clothes on their backs,” said the Rev. Canon Robert D. Edmunds, Middle East Partnership Officer for The Episcopal Church.  “Each of us has an opportunity to bring needed relief and hope to them with our prayers and our contributions. We are grateful for Episcopal Relief & Development and the relationship that has been forged with sister aid agencies.”

Christian Aid provides helpful prayers and other worship resources to rally and express care and concern for those affected by the worsening situation in Iraq.

God of refuge and strength,
We pray for all those escaping fighting, seeking safety in northern Iraq.
Those half a million people who are now on the move and
those 220,000 Syrian refugees already there.
May you be a very present help in their trouble.
Help through the provision of resources so needs are met.
Help through food, water, hygiene and sanitation kits.
Help so this ‘crisis on top of a crisis’ would not reach breaking point.
May those who are left with nothing
Know that they are not forgotten.
May they once again be able to fear less.

Please pray for those impacted by the crisis in Iraq and the surrounding region, and those ministering to their humanitarian needs.

To enable Episcopal Relief & Development to provide disaster assistance in Iraq and other places where help is most needed, please contribute to the Disaster Response Fund.

Applications accepted for Episcopal Church delegates at 2015 United Nations meeting

Monday, August 18, 2014

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Applications are being accepted for a provincial delegate and up to 20 churchwide delegates to represent The Episcopal Church at the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York City, March 9-20, 2015.

The provincial delegate and the churchwide delegates will be able to attend the official UNCSW proceedings at the UN and will represent The Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion in their advocacy at the UN, including joint advocacy with the group Ecumenical Women.

The 2015 UNCSW theme is a review of progress made in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Program for Action, 20 years after its adoption at the Fourth World Conference for Women in 1995.  See more here.

Applications are open to an adult or youth (ages 16-20), women or men, who can speak to the theme and are willing to participate in advocacy at UNSCW. Youth should be accompanied by an adult chaperone.

Applicants should have a relevant role at the parish, diocesan and/or provincial level, be accountable to a diocesan or provincial authority, and have a process for reporting back to their local community after participating in UNCSW.

Applicants will be expected to be present in New York City for UNSCW March 6-20, or as close to the entire stay as possible. Successful applicants will be responsible for their own travel, housing and program expenses.

The delegates will be chosen by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori; applicants will be notified by mid-October.

Application is available here. Deadline is September 15.

For more information contact Lynnaia Main, Episcopal Church Global Relations Officer, lmain@episcopalchurch.org.

Praying ‘that this Ebola passes over’ in Liberia

Monday, August 18, 2014

Liberian soldiers check people travelling in Bomi County Aug. 11. Liberian troops set up Ebola roadblocks and stopped public access to some of the worst-hit towns after the country declared a state of emergency to tackle the worst outbreak of the disease on record. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Liberian Archbishop Jonathan Bau-Bau Bonaparte Hart is praying to God “that this Ebola passes over” western Africa and his people are restored to health soon.

Hart, who spoke to Episcopal News Service Aug. 18 via telephone from his office in Monrovia’s Trinity Cathedral, spent the previous day visiting churches of all denominations in the capital city to urge people to practice the preventative measures being called for by medical and governmental workers and “to refrain from anything that will bring Ebola to us.”

Also on Aug. 18, Hart e-mailed ENS a two-page letter explaining that a widely reported recent statement by the Liberian Council of Churches about the need for prayer over the Ebola outbreak had been changed by an unknown person to include a reference to homosexuality and then released to the media. Hart is president of the council.

The Liberian Observer newspaper reported July 31 that the council had called for three days of national “indoor fasting and prayer” Aug. 6-8. The newspaper said that the first resolve of the resolution calling for the days of prayer read “that God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God’s forgiveness.”

In his letter to ENS, Hart wrote that the call for prayer arose out of a council meeting in which the church leaders used Scripture to understand that they were “in the midst of a plague” and that, like the children of Israel, they and the nation were called to pray, fast and repent.

“As we talked about the state of our nation and how the most vulnerable of our society – women, children, the poor, the voiceless, continue to suffer the consequences of a post war nation that still lacks basic health care, education and economic empowerment, we, the leaders, felt that if God is angry at us, we must have done something against God’s will.”

Council members agreed that the nation needed to repent of its “shortcomings, including greed, corruption and the lack of stewardship for the care of our nation and its people.”

The discussion during the meeting included a conversation about human sexuality. The council is theologically diverse “and so we will interpret the teachings on human sexuality in more than one way,” Hart wrote.

“While we all agree with the protection of all people from acts of sexual violence, some of my colleagues believe that the sexual orientation of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is against God’s will,” he said in the letter.

However, there was no agreement to mention human sexuality in the church council statement, Hart wrote, and “neither I nor my colleagues who have a different view on human sexuality, approved the inclusion of the word ‘homosexuality’ as something for which the nation has to repent.”

“Someone chose to include that one word” to a statement that he thought all members had agreed on, Hart wrote.

The archbishop left immediately after the meeting to travel to the southeastern part of Liberia and, he wrote, without internet access he had “no way of knowing what the statement said” until he returned to Monrovia to calls from “very angry Liberian Episcopalians in Liberia and around the world.”

In the Aug. 18 letter Hart wrote that as president of the church council he should have “personally reviewed the final statement, edited it.”

“I profoundly regret that I did not,” he wrote.

Hart apologized to “anyone and everyone who was hurt by that statement” and wrote that he hopes the statement’s problems do not define his church’s “incredible witness” in Liberia.

Faithful witness in Liberia
That witness is anchored in faith. Liberians have always turned to their faith in troubled times, the archbishop wrote, “from the bloody military coup d’etat execution of certain government officials, who were some of our parishioners and relatives, to the 14 years of senseless and bloody civil war that saw the worst human behavior, and now this Ebola virus.”

Liberian Archbishop Jonathan Bau-Bau Bonaparte Hart

Hart said that Ebola is a new and different war. “Unlike the war where we knew there were soldiers and rebels armed with weapons and deep hatred, this new war is silent, invisible, but just as devastating.”

Health workers in the Liberian capital of Monrovia are being overwhelmed in their efforts to collect and properly dispose of the bodies of those who have died from Ebola, Hart told ENS.
Sometimes people run out of patience to wait and so “sometimes they go on a rampage to attract police,” he said.

Weekend violence at a clinic for testing and monitoring people who had been exposed to Ebola occurred, according to what Hart had learned, because residents of the surrounding community thought that the patients did in fact have Ebola. They attacked the clinic “and made away with some of the health center’s materials,” he said.

News accounts of the attack in what Hart called “one of the worst slum areas” of Monrovia reported that bloody sheets and mattresses were also taken and that 17 people being kept at the clinic had disappeared.
According to Hart, people also are struggling with the conflicting desires to care for their sick family members and prepare the bodies of those who have died with the necessity of not coming in contact with the bodily fluids through which Ebola, a hemorrhagic virus, spreads.

He said he and others in the churches and in government are urging people to set up hand-washing stations and to wash their hands frequently in chlorine-treated water.

In addition, there are people who “still do not believe what is happening is Ebola – who still do not believe that there is Ebola in our country,” Hart said.

Ebola deaths increasing throughout West Africa
The current Ebola outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013 and now involves Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, according to the United Nations’ World Health Organization.

On Aug. 15, WHO said that between Aug. 12-13, a total of 152 new cases of Ebola virus disease (laboratory-confirmed, probable and suspect cases) as well as 76 deaths were reported from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Since the outbreak began, there have been 2,127 laboratory-confirmed, probable and suspect cases and 1,145 laboratory-confirmed, probable, and suspect deaths, the organization said.

“The scale, duration, and lethality of the Ebola outbreak have generated a high level of public fear and anxiety, which extends well beyond west Africa,” another press release from WHO said. “Such reactions are understandable, given the high fatality rate and the absence of a vaccine or cure.”

The organization acknowledged that people are looking everywhere for cures and that some are placing their hopes in dangerous products and practices. “All rumors of any other effective products or practices are false,” WHO said in the release. “Their use can be dangerous. In Nigeria, for example, at least two people have died after drinking salt water, rumored to be protective.”

“The most effective personal behaviors are avoiding well-known high-risk situations, knowing the symptoms of infection, and reporting early for testing and care. Evidence suggests that early supportive care improves the prospects of survival,” the statement said.

The organization also cautioned people against hoping for the widespread effectiveness of experimental drugs to treat Ebola, which it authorized last week, because of safety concerns, difficulty in administration in such settings and the limited supply of the drugs.

WHO has called the outbreak “the largest, most severe and most complex” since the disease was first seen in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1976. The disease killed 280 during that outbreak, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Bishop Seabury Church in Groton sold to Baptist congregation

Monday, August 18, 2014

[Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut press release] The building formerly known as Bishop Seabury Episcopal Church on North Road in Groton is set on a new path to serve God’s mission in Groton and beyond. The Episcopal Church in Connecticut had maintained a parish presence on the site since 1966 when the congregation relocated there from its former home at Fort Street in Groton. Beginning on Aug. 15 the property will become the new home of Stedfast Baptist Church.

The building became available for repurposing following the departure of its worshipping community from The Episcopal Church because of theological differences. After a prolonged legal challenge, the property remained part of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.

For the last 18 months lay and ordained leaders from the Bishops’ Office and from Episcopal parishes in Gales Ferry, New London, Niantic, Norwich, Poquetanuck, Stonington, Mystic, and Yantic worked closely together to discern what God is up to in Groton and its environs, and how the resources of the Bishop Seabury Church might best be used to extend God’s mission in Groton and across Connecticut. In a community-wide meeting in January, representatives of the neighborhood, social service agencies, other faith communities, and municipal offices all shared their hopes and dreams, needs and aspirations for Groton.

Following the community meeting Episcopal leaders pursued wide-ranging options for the property with possibilities including: housing for wounded veterans, a community center, and a soup kitchen. In the end it was decided that the best option would be to sell the building to another Christian community and use the proceeds to support a new missionary program of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.

During this period of discernment, leaders of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut were in conversation with members of Stedfast Baptist Church, currently located at 1041 Poquonnock Road in Groton. As God would have it, the leaders of Stedfast Baptist Church, a long-time and respected Christian church in the Groton community, were looking to relocate to a new and larger facility. In a matter of months an agreement had been worked out between the two churches.

The Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, said of these developments: “I am delighted that the building formerly known as Bishop Seabury Church will continue to be a house of prayer for sisters and brothers in Christ. And I am particularly excited that the resources freed up by the sale of the building will help to underwrite a new missionary program through the Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. After all, Bishop Samuel Seabury, the first bishop in The Episcopal Church, was a pioneering missionary in these parts in the early years of American independence. I can think of no better use of the money coming from the sale of the church that bears his name than to support new missionaries in Connecticut today.”

Ferguson, Misurí: líderes de la Iglesia intentan ayudar a rehacer la confianza de la comunidad

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wayne Smith, obispo [episcopal] de Misurí desfila el 14 de agosto, junto con clérigos y otras personas, a través del complejo de apartamentos de Canfield Green, donde el joven Michael Brown, de 18 años, fue muerto a tiros el 9 de agosto. Foto de Mike Angell.

[Episcopal News Service] La Rda. Teresa Mithen-Danieley confiando en que “probablemente no habría gases lacrimógenos” se llevó consigo a su hija de dos años, Ruby Frances, a la marcha del 14 de agosto en Ferguson, Misurí, para empezar a rehacer la confianza de la comunidad después de que un policía matara a tiros a un adolescente negro desarmado el 9 de agosto y la secuela de violencia que ello tuvo.

Junto con el obispo Wayne Smith, de Misurí, ella y otros episcopales se unieron al menos a otras 1.000 personas —clérigos, funcionarios públicos, vecinos y partidarios— en una manifestación en Ferguson de más de 3 kilómetros de largo, en la cual los clérigos se situaron en los perímetros y en los extremos, según dijo Mithen-Danieley.

“Quisimos tratar de hacerle claro a cualquiera que quisiera participar en la manifestación y a la policía y al público que este es un acto no violento, y que estábamos todos allí en solidaridad con las personas de Ferguson”.

Mientras los manifestantes se acercaban al complejo de Canfield Green, donde el adolescente de 18 años Michael Brown resultó fatalmente herido el 9 de agosto “entrábamos en un valle de casas estilo rancho y uno podía ver que todo el barrio estaba saturado de gases lacrimógenos”, explicó.

“Uno podía apreciar en la medida en que usaron los gases lacrimógenos, permeaban toda la zona”, dijo Mithen-Daniely, rectora de la iglesia episcopal de San Juan [St. John’s Episcopal Church] en Tower Grove cerca de San Luis.

La agresión a tiros —y el nivel de la violencia policial dirigida a la comunidad predominantemente afroamericana en los días que siguieron— ha reabierto viejas heridas y expuesto dolorosamente las divisiones raciales y económicas en esta comunidad suburbana de San Luis de unos 21.000 habitantes.

Y el 15 de agosto, la declaración de la policía en que nombraba al agente que hizo los disparos e identificab a Michael Brown como sospechoso de un robo no cambió nada de eso, según el obispo Smith.

“La elección del momento es desafortunada, que la mención de Michael Brown como sospechoso se haya dado a conocer al mismo momento en que se revelaba el nombre del agente”, dijo él a ENS el 15 de agosto. “Simplemente no pareció justo. Es absolutamente una maniobra distractiva en lo concerniente a la agresión policial en sí”.

Los efectos persistentes de la violencia espiritual de la justicia racial y económica “no son nuevos para nosotros; es algo que hemos tenido que enfrentar durante mucho tiempo”, añadió Smith quien, en un comunicado en la página web de la diócesis, hizo un llamado a todos los episcopales “especialmente a aquellos cuya raza o cultura les otorga un innato privilegio, lo que se ha puesto de manifiesto, a orar acerca de estas cosas, a aprender humildemente de ellas, y anhelar y laborar en pro de respuestas que promuevan la justicia”.


Cicatrices permanentes, divisiones raciales y económicas

Mientras viajaba hasta Ferguson desde la iglesia catedral de Cristo [Christ Church Cathedral] en San Luis, para participar en la marcha del 14 de agosto, contaba Smith: “pasé por el cementerio del Calvario, donde está enterrado Dred Scott, y pensaba en esa larga y dolorosa historia que hemos tenido con las relaciones raciales aquí en la ciudad y el condado de San Luis”.

Dread Scott, siendo esclavo, presentó una demanda para obtener su libertad en un caso célebre que finalmente llegó al Tribunal Supremo de EE.UU. En 1857, el tribunal dictaminó que por ser Scott negro, no era ciudadano y, por consiguiente, no tenía derecho a demandar.

Smith dijo que se había unido a la marcha atendiendo la invitación de la Coalición de Clérigos Metropolitanos “una organización predominantemente afroamericana. Enviamos una notificación por correo electrónico al clero y al laicado y en verdad me sentí animado por la decidida muestra de apoyo”.

“espero que nuestra Iglesia pueda seguir el ejemplo de lo que la comunidad de Ferguson y las comunidades vecinas necesitan y quieren. Tenemos que respetar su integridad y su autoridad”, afirmó.

Smith dijo también que durante la marcha “desfiló con un joven del Colegio Universitario de Morehouse que había venido en auto desde Atlanta con Ruby Sales”, quien había sido invitada a hablar en un evento local.

“Él quería contribuir con la resolución del conflicto en San Luis y me pidió mis señas para ponerse en contacto conmigo”, contó Smith. “Le mencioné que ayer era la fiesta de Jonathan Daniels”, el seminarista episcopal que murió por salvar a Sales de un escopetazo durante la campaña en pro de los derechos civiles en 1965, [que se llamó] Verano de la Libertad en Hayneville, Alabama.


‘Una enorme falta de confianza’

El Muy Rdo. Mike Kinman, deán de la iglesia catedral de Cristo en San Luis, dijo que después que se diera a conocer, el 15 de agosto, el nombre del agente así como la información que incriminaba a Brown como sospechoso de robo, “la situación estaba cambiando por instantes”.

El momento de comunicar esa información “denuncia la enorme falta de confianza en nuestra comunidad; que es uno de los problemas fundamentales aquí”, señaló. “Ha habido, a lo largo del tiempo, un increíble deterioro de la confianza entre la comunidad negra de San Luis y el departamento de la policía y las instituciones de la justicia en general, y no sólo en Ferguson, sino en toda el área metropolitana”.

El 14 de agosto, el gobernador de Misurí, Jay Nixon, le quitó la supervisión de la seguridad en Ferguson a la policía local y la puso en manos del capitán Ronald S. Johnson, de Patrulla de Caminos, y prometió un cambio en el tono de lo que el Rdo. Steve Lawler y otros han llamado “una militarización” de la policía.

La policía estatal se unió con los manifestantes en la marcha del 14 de agosto. Brillaban por su ausencia los equipos antimotines, las armas semiautomáticas, los vehículos blindados y la excesiva demostración de fuerza que antes había usado la policía de Ferguson, apuntó él.

“Esa ha sido la gran conmoción, la mayor sorpresa, la respuesta de la policía”, dijo Lawler, rector de la iglesia episcopal de San Esteban [St. Stephen’s] (http://www.saint-stephens.info) en Ferguson. “Realmente ha sido intensa, y parece como si hubiera acelerado, más bien que desacelerado, el resolver la manera en que la gente volviera a trabajar junta”.

Chester Hines, presidente de la comisión diocesana sobre el desmantelamiento del racismo estaba dirigiendo un taller de formación antirracista en Sikeston, a 233 kilómetros a sur de San Luis, que ya estaba programado “antes de que Ferguson explotara”.

Pero él no se mostró sorprendido por los disparos ni por la violencia, “como un resultado de mi propia experiencia con el racismo en esta comunidad durante más de 60 años ahora”, dijo. “La razón por la cual realizo esta labor se debe a mis propias experiencias personales de convivir con el racismo en San Luis”.

Y, agregó, que las mismas circunstancias de Ferguson están presentes en otras comunidades. La diferencia consiste en que “Ferguson tiene una población bastante grande de personas de color, que fueron capaces de salirle al paso como comunidad a las fuerzas del departamento de policía. En la mayoría de nuestras comunidades suburbanas las personas de color son realmente una minoría, de manera que en verdad tienen una voz o un impacto muy limitado”.


Emplear ‘el poder del Evangelio’

No obstante, a pesar de todo, dijo Lawler, “el poder del Evangelio ha sido palpable”.

La despensa de San Esteban está desesperadamente necesitada de reabastecimientos; muchos negocios locales estuvieron cerrados y los vecinos se mostraban renuentes a aventurarse afuera debido a la masiva presencia de la policía, contó él.

“No podíamos conseguir alimentos y sabíamos que esta es la época del año cuando la gente tiene que comprar útiles escolares y otras cosas”, dijo. “El lunes habría sido el primer día de clases del distrito escolar.

“Las personas ya estaban presionadas económicamente”, añadió. “Es un mes caro”.

Pero la respuesta resultó abrumadora, ya que las congregaciones diocesanas, las organizaciones comunitarias y los individuos inundaron la despensa con alimentos y artículos de uso personal. Por ejemplo, dijo Lawler, “hay un hombre que está por temporadas sin hogar, pero pasó y me dio un par de latas de frijoles listos para comer, las cuales yo sé que son probablemente la mitad de la comida que él tiene para el día, si acaso”.

“Otro tipo, cuyo hijo se encontraba comprando marihuana en el lugar equivocado a la hora equivocada, y a quien mataron a tiros hace un par de semanas, se apareció con comida, lleno de compasión por la comunidad. Hay un nivel de compenetración que ha estado presente aquí, en medio de todo esto”.

La planificación para otras vigilias de oración, manifestaciones y actos también se encuentra en marcha, en tanto la comunidad comienza a hacerle frente a la difícil labor a largo plazo de reconstruir la confianza y emprender la reconciliación.

Chuck Wynder, misionero de la Iglesia Episcopal para la justicia y la defensa social dijo que ha estado trabajando estrechamente con sus colegas el Misionero para la Reconciliación Racial, Heidi Kim, y con Alex Baumgarten, que dirige la Oficina de Relaciones Gubernamentales de la Iglesia “para ver cómo podemos acompañar a la gente aquí y cómo podemos apoyar a la diócesis y a la comunidad”.

“Queremos cerciorarnos de que nuestro testimonio y nuestra defensa social está presente tanto en la localidad como en la Iglesia a nivel denominacional y facilitar nuestra respuesta misional de manera que otras partes de la Iglesia más allá de Ferguson y de la Diócesis de Misurí sepan que la Iglesia está presente en medio de todo esto”, afirmó.

El Rdo. Mike Angell que, como misionero de la Iglesia Episcopal para los jóvenes adultos y el ministerio universitario, está radicado en San Luis, dijo que escribió un pliego de preguntas y respuestas para ayudar a los estudiantes universitarios y jóvenes adultos a discutir las ramificaciones de la tragedia de Ferguson.


Comenzar la ardua tarea de la reconciliación

Congregarse y avanzar constituye un reto a largo plazo, dijo Angell. “Es un problema de racismo sistémico”, afirmó. “Tenemos una crisis en nuestro país que salió a relucir con lo que sucedió con Michael Brown. Es permanente. Tenemos mucho que hacer hoy día y ¿no es la Iglesia exactamente el lugar donde debemos hacerlo?”.

La Rda. Teresa Mithen-Danieley convino con él.

“Ha habido alguna respuesta inmediata esta semana, y me alegro de eso”, dijo Mithen-Danieley, que creció en Normandy, una comunidad vecina a Ferguson. “Pero quiero un compromiso a largo plazo”, añadió.

“Para mí, eso no significa mucho, a menos que la diócesis como un todo y las personas de la diócesis continúen invirtiendo y participando en la justicia económica y la justicia racial a largo plazo en nuestra región. Desafortunadamente, esta tragedia ha ayudado a las personas a ver que hay muchísimas tensiones que han estado ocurriendo a lo largo de toda mi vida, y yo tengo 37”, puntualizó ella.

“Espero que sea una oportunidad de llevar esto a toda la Iglesia, cómo la justicia racial y la económica están vinculadas y que esto es un problema a largo plazo que no se va a acabar cuando se acaben las manifestaciones”.

Kinman se mostró de acuerdo.

“Ahora mismo, está en los medios de prensa, una causa que nos ha exaltado, y eso es importante y está bien. Pero los asuntos con que esto tiene que ver son el poder y el privilegio y la raza y la clase social y ellos han estado presente durante mucho tiempo. Enfrentarse a esto conllevará un empeño sostenido.

“Y les corresponderá a las personas con poder y privilegios, y esas constituyen la mayoría de los episcopales blancos y de los sanluiseños blancos; y nos corresponderá educarnos y convertirnos realmente en buenos escuchas y examinar cómo somos llamados a cambiar algunos de estos sistemas que llevaron a la muerte de Michael Brown”.

La catedral está sosteniendo conversaciones respecto a formar parte de ese proceso actual educativo “y de restauración, no de restauración hasta el punto donde todo el mundo, de alguna manera, se quede callado otra vez, sino restauración que nos lleve a alcanzar un nivel diferente”, explicó.

“Nunca le devolveremos la vida a Michael Brown, pero esto puede redimirse de algún modo”.

“No resulta fácil, en momentos como éste, elegir a una parte —a una persona o a un grupo de personas— como completamente buena y a la otra parte como completamente mala, y tenemos que resistir eso a toda costa. Pero, somos llamados a ser embajadores de Cristo y ministros de la reconciliación y tenemos que respaldar a todo el mundo. Tenemos que llamar a todos nosotros a ser esas imágenes de Dios que son nuestra mejor naturaleza.

“Esa es la labor a largo plazo de la Iglesia, establecer relaciones de amor y de respeto con todos, de manera que podamos congregarlos a todos y decir escuchémoslos a todos y atendamos lo que Dios nos está llamando a ser”.

–La Rda. Pat McCaughan es corresponsal de Episcopal News Service. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.

Agrupaciones de la Iglesia se movilizan para hacerle frente al brote del ébola en África Occidental

Monday, August 18, 2014

Unos voluntarios sepultan un cadáver —preparado conforme a normas de enterramiento seguras para garantizar que no presente riesgos de salud para otros y que interrumpa la cadena de transmisiones de una persona a otra— en una tumba de Kailahún, Sierra Leona. Foto de Tarik Jasarevic/Reuters/OMS.

[Episcopal News Service] Dos sacerdotes episcopales con profundas raíces personales y profesionales en dos de los países que están siendo devastados por el ébola dicen que los empeños por contener la propagación del virus mortal están siendo obstaculizados por la lentitud de la respuesta, la falta de suministros médicos, el analfabetismo, la pobreza y la desinformación.

“El problema que hemos tenido es que los liberianos no toman medidas preventivas”, dijo el Rdo. James Tetegba Yarsiah a ENS el 13 de agosto, añadiendo que hasta hace unas pocas semanas los liberianos no le estaban prestando atención a esta “enfermedad mortal”.

“Es ahora que lo están tomando muy en serio”, dijo Yarsiah, que es el capellán y vicario de Voorhees College donde también ejerce de profesor auxiliar de religión y filosofía. Él es también un líder de la Comunidad Episcopal Liberiana en los Estados Unidos de América.

Los padres, hermanos y suegra de Yarsiah, además de otros parientes y amigos suyos, viven en Liberia, que junto con Sierra Leona y Guinea se encuentra en el centro del peor brote de ébola de la historia. Él les ha instado a que tomen medidas preventivas para protegerse del virus, según dijo.

Ellos “se sienten aterrados y horrorizados por la manera en [el ébola] ha asolado y causado la muerte a la población de África Occidental, de manera que están llegando al convencimiento de que es muy peligroso”.

“Y también ven el sufrimiento que le ha traído a la región”, agregó.

James Yarsiah


Hasta hace muy poco, la Iglesia Episcopal de Liberia, que tiene sus raíces en la Iglesia Episcopal en Estados Unidos y que ahora es parte de la Iglesia Anglicana en la Provincia de África Occidental, no ha estado haciendo mucho respecto al ébola, agregó Yarsiah.

“Y la razón para eso es que esto es algo que ha tomado a todo el país por sorpresa, y que ha avanzado con mucha rapidez y ha causado mucho caos y muerte”, explicó, añadiendo que La Iglesia Episcopal de Liberia no cuenta con los materiales necesarios, las instalaciones y los suministros médicos que se necesitan. La Iglesia, sin embargo, está intentando educar a la gente, especialmente en las zonas rurales, respecto a la manera de protegerse.

El arzobispo Jonathan Bau-Bau Bonaparte Hart, que fue electo en 2008 como obispo de Liberia y que se convirtió el mes pasado en el arzobispo de la Provincia Interna de África Occidental en la Iglesia de la Provincia de África Occidental, le estuvo contando a Yarsiah del sufrimiento y el miedo que él presencia en Liberia.

“Él teme por sus fieles a través de la diócesis”, apuntó Yarsiah.

Ministrar una zona afectada por una enfermedad como el ébola, dijo Yarsiah, constituye “una carga para él y todo el clero y para toda la Iglesia”.

Agregó que ha tenido noticias de algunos colegas suyos, graduados como él de la Universidad de Cuttington, fundada en 1889 en el sur de Libera por la Iglesia Episcopal de EE.UU., que han perdido a miembros de su familia debido a este virus. Algunos enfermeros profesionales que se graduaron en Cuttington han muerto.

Ese tipo de noticias hace que el ébola “toque de cerca” a los [africanos] que viven en Estados Unidos, señaló él. Hace que la gente tema que no tardará en recibir malas noticias sobre sus seres queridos que se quedaron allá.

Yarsiah cree que si bien muchas iglesias episcopales en Liberia se han visto afectadas por el ébola, la mayoría sigue funcionando. “Este es un momento en que las iglesias deben abrir sus puertas y ayudar a la información de las personas, ayudar a consolar y aconsejar a la gente”, afirmó.

En un llamado a la oración por la población de África Occidental hecho el 8 de agosto, la organización misionera anglicana Us., conocida anteriormente como la Sociedad Unida para la Propagación del Evangelio (USPG por su sigla en inglés) informaba que [el obispo] Hart le había dicho al personal de su diócesis que “hemos unido fuerzas con el Consejo de Iglesias, el gobierno y otras organizaciones en la lucha contra el ébola. Las iglesias están instruyendo a nuestros miembros a que eviten el contacto con personas infectadas, a que se laven las manos con cloro y a que no entren en pánico”.

“Instamos al público a que mantenga su medioambiente limpio”, dijo Hart, añadiendo que la Iglesia está repitiendo el mensaje de las autoridades sanitarias al pedirles a los episcopales que “evitan darse la mano y, en la medida en que sea posible, rehúsen cualquier innecesario contacto corporal”.

“Necesitamos guantes quirúrgicos desechables, cloro y útiles de higiene como salvaguarda contra el ébola”, le dijo Hart a Us.

Yarsiah contó que la Comunidad Episcopal Liberiana en los Estados Unidos de América está tratando de ayudar a la Iglesia a reunir esos suministros, valiéndose de una lista proporcionada por el Consejo Liberiano de Iglesias, del cual Hart es el presidente, y de otra lista que publicara en su página web la embajada liberiana en Washington, D.C.

Se puede obtener más información sobre esta iniciativa en la página web de la organización.

A fines de julio, El Consejo Liberiano de Iglesia pidió tres días de “ayuno y oración de puertas cerradas”, del 6 al 8 de agosto. El llamado, que se divulgó en los periódicos de Liberia, comenzaba por decir que “Dios estaba enojado con Liberia y que el ébola era una plaga. Que los liberianos tienen que orar y buscar el perdón de Dios por la corrupción y actos inmorales (tales como homosexualismo, etc.) que siguen penetrando en nuestra sociedad. Como cristianos, debemos arrepentirnos y buscar el perdón de Dios”.


El ébola en Sierra Leona

En la Diócesis de Texas, el Rdo. Johannes George, natural de Sierra Leona, dijo haber escuchado otro tipo de información acerca del ébola.

George ha estado en contacto diariamente con amigos y familiares en busca de actualización. Junto con su congregación en la iglesia episcopal de Cristo el Rey [Christ the King Episcopal Church] en Houston, George reunió a un gran grupo de africanos del sudoeste de Houston para orar y recaudar dinero a fin de ayudar [en esta crisis], informó la diócesis el 12 de agosto. Él también hace contacto por Internet cada sábado con musulmanes y cristianos de todo el país para orar por las víctimas y por los trabajadores sanitarios en África.

George contó que había hablado con personas de su pueblo natal de Kenama, el cual se encuentra en cuarentena.

“Nadie confía en nadie. No confían en los trabajadores sanitarios; ni siquiera confían en su propia familia”, dijo George durante la entrevista en vídeo de la Diócesis de Texas.

“Hay un conflicto entre los trabajadores sanitarios y la gente tradicional”, agregó, que parte de la tradición de la gente de lavar y ungir a los muertos y de “darles un último abrazo” antes del entierro, y el empeño de los trabajadores médicos de evitar que las personas tengan tales contactos con los muertos del ébola.

Las personas, añadió, deben ser sensibles al hecho de que deben comportarse de manera diferente durante una epidemia. Este hecho alguna gente lo pierde de vista, especialmente en aldeas rurales, dijo George.

“No creen que es algo que proviene del interior [de su sociedad], señaló. “La creencia es que proviene de afuera, que viene de Occidente y que Occidente está infectándonos con esto”.

No entienden que el ébola proviene de comer mono, insectos y otros “animales salvajes” que dice George que las personas comen por falta de otros alimentos. El diseminar información acerca del ébola y cómo se propaga resulta difícil porque muchas personas son analfabetas. La mayoría no tiene radio ni televisión, añadió.



Un informe reciente del New York Times mostraba un cuadro sombrío de la propagación del virus en Njala Ngiema, donde George una vez prestó servicios y predicó. La aldea de 500 habitantes ha perdido más del 10 por ciento de su población, muchos de los cuales son agricultores de subsistencia.

George teme que la cuarentena impuesta para prevenir la propagación de la enfermedad afecte a una población víctima de la pobreza al reducir los pocos suministros de alimento y comida de que disponen los miembros de la aldea. Recurrirán a beber de las aguas contaminadas y a comer más animales salvajes, expresó.

El Times informaba que los expertos reconocen que cualquier cordón sanitario debe permitir que el alimento, el agua y la atención médica lleguen a los de adentro.

Ade Renner-Thomas, canciller de la Diócesis de Freetown, en Sierra Leona, dijo a Us. El 8 de agosto que el gobierno de Sierra Leona ha declarado un estado de emergencia sanitaria pública, lo cual significa que hay cuarentenas en las zonas más afectadas. Se han restringido los movimientos en ciertas zonas y las reuniones de más de cinco personas están prohibidas.

“Cuando nos hemos reunido en una iglesia, no hay estrechones de mano al compartir el rito de la paz, etc.”, dijo él a Us. “Necesitamos tanta oración como ustedes puedan ofrecer”.

Ayuda y Desarrollo Episcopales labora con sus asociados, tanto en Liberia como en Sierra Leona, en apoyo a las campañas por crear conciencia y proporcionar equipo de protección personal y desinfectantes a hospitales y clínicas de escasos recursos en las zonas afectadas, según un comunicado de prensa del 6 de agosto.

La extensión del brote

El actual brote del ébola comenzó en Guinea en diciembre de 2013 y ahora afecta a Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria y Sierra Leona, según una declaración de la Organización Mundial de la Salud de Naciones Unidas.


El 14 de agosto, la OMS dijo que había 1.975 casos de ébola y 1.069 muertes reportadas en Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria y Sierra Leona.

La OMS ha calificado el brote como “el mayor, más grave y más complejo” desde que la enfermedad se detectó por primera vez en Zaire, ahora República Democrática del Congo, en 1976. La enfermedad mató 280 personas durante ese brote, según el Centro para Control y Prevención de Enfermedades de Estados Unidos.

En su entrevista con la Diócesis de Texas, George pidió que las drogas experimentales se pusieran inmediatamente a disposición [de los que las necesitaran]. Y el 13 de agosto, la Organización Mundial de la Salud aprobó tal uso, con precauciones.

El respaldo de la organización se produjo después de que ésta reunió a un grupo de especialistas en cuestiones éticas para considerar las implicaciones de responder al uso de tales medicamentos para salvar la vida de pacientes y frenar la propagación de la epidemia, aunque aún su inocuidad y eficacia en seres humanos no hubiese sido evaluada.

“Hubo un acuerdo unánime entre los expertos de que en las circunstancias especiales de este brote del ébola, es ético ofrecer intervenciones no registradas como tratamientos potenciales o de prevención”, dijo Marie-Paule Kieny, subdirectora general de la Organización Mundial de la Salud.

Si los medicamentos han de aplicarse a los pacientes y en qué momento “existe la obligación moral de recoger y compartir todos los datos que se generen”, dijo el organismo en un resumen del 12 de agosto de su debate del día anterior.

“Hubo un acuerdo unánime de que existe un deber moral de evaluar también estas intervenciones (para el tratamiento o la prevención) en los mejores experimentos clínicos que permitan las circunstancias a fin de probar definitivamente su inocuidad y eficacia o arrojar pruebas para detener su utilización”, dijo la institución.

La Rda. Mary Frances Schjonberg es redactora y reportera de Episcopal News Service. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.

Ferguson, Missouri: Church leaders aim to help rebuild community trust

Friday, August 15, 2014

Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith marches Aug. 14 with clergy and others through the Canfield Green apartment complex where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot Aug. 9. Photo: Mike Angell

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Teresa Mithen-Danieley gambled “there probably wouldn’t be tear gas” and took her two-year-old daughter Ruby Frances with her to the Aug. 14 march in Ferguson, Missouri, to begin to rebuild community trust after the Aug. 9 fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager and its violent aftermath.

Along with Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith, she and other Episcopalians joined at least 1,000 other clergy, public officials, residents and supporters in the nearly two-mile march in Ferguson with clergy positioned on the perimeters and ends, according to Mithen-Danieley.

“We wanted to try to be clear to anybody that wanted to participate in the march and to the police and to the public that this is a nonviolent event, and that we were all there in solidarity with the people of Ferguson.”

As marchers approached the Canfield Green apartment complex where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot Aug. 9 “we were walking down into a valley of ranch-style homes and you could see how the whole neighborhood was tear-gassed,” she said.

“You could see how the tear gas was used, it permeated the whole area,” said Mithen-Daniely, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tower Grove near St. Louis.

The shooting — and the level of police violence directed at the predominantly African American community in its aftermath — has re-opened old wounds and painfully exposed racial and economic divides in the suburban St. Louis community of about 21,000.

And the Aug. 15 police statement naming the officer involved in the shooting and identifying Michael Brown as a robbery suspect didn’t change any of that, according to Bishop Smith.

“It’s unfortunate timing, that the mention of Michael Brown as a suspect was released at the same moment as the name of the officer was released,” he told ENS on Aug. 15. “It just did not seem right. It is absolutely a red herring when it comes to the shooting itself.”

The lingering effects of the spiritual violence of racial and economic injustice “are not new to us; it’s something we’ve had to face for a long time,” added Smith, who in a statement on the diocesan website called upon all Episcopalians “especially those whose race or culture gives innate privilege, to look upon what has been laid bare, to pray about these things, humbly to learn from them, and to yearn and work for responses that would bring justice.”

Lingering scars, racial and economic divides

While traveling to Ferguson from Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis for the Aug. 14 march Smith said: “I passed by Calvary Cemetery, where Dred Scott is buried, and I thought of that long and painful history that we’ve had with race relations here in St. Louis city and county.”

A slave, Dred Scott sued to gain his freedom in a landmark case that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1857, the court ruled that because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue.

Smith said that he joined the march at the invitation of the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition “a predominantly African American organization. We sent out email notification to clergy and laity and I really was heartened by the strong support,” he said.

“I hope that our church really can follow the lead of what the community in Ferguson and surrounding communities need and want. We have to respect their integrity and authority,” he said.

During the march Smith said he “walked with a young man from Morehouse College who drove from Atlanta with Ruby Sales” who had been invited to speak at a local event.

“He wanted to be involved with conflict resolution in St. Louis and asked for my contact information,” Smith said. “I mentioned to him that yesterday was the feast of Jonathan Daniels” the Episcopal seminarian who died when he pushed Sales out of the way of a shotgun blast during the 1965 civil rights Freedom Summer in Hayneville, Alabama.

‘A huge poverty of trust’

The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, said after the Aug. 15 release of the officer’s name and information naming Brown as a robbery suspect that “the situation is changing moment by moment.”

The timing of the release “speaks to the huge poverty of trust in our community; that’s one of the central issues here,” he said. “There has been over time an incredible deterioration of trust between the black community in St. Louis and the police department and the institutions of justice in general, and not just in Ferguson, but the whole metro area.”

On Aug. 14, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon took supervision of security in Ferguson away from the local police and gave it to Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, and he promised a change in tone from what the Rev. Steve Lawler and others had called “a militarization” of the police.

State police joined with demonstrators during the Aug. 14 march. Noticeably absent were the riot gear, semi-automatic weapons, armored vehicles and excessive show of force previously used by the Ferguson police, he said.

“That’s been the biggest shock, the biggest surprise, the police response,” said Lawler, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (http://www.saint-stephens.info) in Ferguson. “It’s really been intense, and it seems like it’s accelerated rather than decelerated the figuring out how to get folks back to working together.”

Chester Hines, chairperson of the diocesan commission on dismantling racism was leading an anti-racism training in Sikeston, 145 miles south of St. Louis, that had been previously scheduled “before Ferguson blew up.”

But he wasn’t surprised at the shooting or the violence, “as a result of my own experience with racism in this community for over 60 years now,” he said. “The reason I do this work is because of my own personal experiences of living with racism in St. Louis.”

And, he said, the same circumstances in Ferguson are present in other communities. The difference is “Ferguson has a large enough population of people of color, that they were able to stand as a community against the forces of the police department. In most of our suburban communities people of color are really in a minority so they actually have very limited voice or impact.”

Engaging ‘the Power of the Gospel’

Yet, in spite of it all, Lawler said “the power of the Gospel” has been palpable.

St. Stephen’s food pantry desperately needed restocking; many local businesses were closed and residents were reluctant to venture out because of the massive police presence, he said.

“We couldn’t get food and we knew that this is the time of year when people have to buy school supplies and other things,” he said. “Monday would have been the first day of school for the local school district.

“People are already stressed financially,” he added. “It’s an expensive month.”

But the response was overwhelming, as diocesan congregations, community organizations and individuals flooded the food bank with food and personal items. For instance, Lawler said, “a guy I know who toggles in and out of being homeless but who stopped by and handed me a couple of cans of baked beans, which I know is probably half of the food he had for the day, if that.”

“Another guy, whose son was in the wrong place at the wrong time, buying weed and was shot and killed a couple of weeks ago, came by with food, with such compassion for the community. There’s a level of connectivity that’s been here throughout, in the midst of all this.”

Planning for additional prayer vigils, demonstrations and events is also underway, as the community begins to grapple with the long-term and challenging work of rebuilding trust and engaging reconciliation.

Chuck Wynder, Episcopal Church missioner for social justice and advocacy said he has been working closely with his colleagues Missioner for Racial Reconciliation Heidi Kim and with Alex Baumgarten, who directs the church’s Office of Government Relations, “to see how we can companion the folks there and how we can support the diocese and the community.”

“We want to make sure our witness and our advocacy is present both locally and church-wide and facilitate our missional response so that other parts of the church beyond Ferguson and the Diocese of Missouri know the church is present in the midst of all this,” he said.

The Rev. Mike Angell, who as Episcopal Church missioner for young adult and campus ministries is based in St. Louis, said he wrote a question and answer sheet to help college students and young adults discuss the ramifications of the Ferguson tragedy.

Beginning the hard task of reconciliation

Coming together and moving forward is a long-term challenge, Angell said. “It’s an issue of systemic racism,” he said. “We have a crisis in our country that broke through with what happened with Michael Brown. It’s ongoing. We have a lot of work to do today and isn’t the church exactly the place where we should be doing it?”

The Rev. Teresa Mithen-Danieley agreed.

“There’s been some immediate response this week, and I’m glad of that,” said Mithen-Danieley who grew up in Normandy, a community adjoining Ferguson. “But I want a long-term commitment,” she added.

“To me, it doesn’t mean much unless the diocese as a whole and the people of the diocese continue to be invested and engaged in long-term economic justice and racial justice in our region. Unfortunately, this tragedy has helped people to see there are a lot of tensions that have been going on my whole lifetime, and I’m 37,” she said.

“I hope this is an opportunity to bring this to the wider church, how racial and economic justice are tied together and that this is a long-term problem that’s not going to go away when the marching stops.”

Kinman agreed.

“Right now, it’s in the media, we’re riled up about it and that’s important and that’s good. But the issues this is all about are power and privilege and race and class and they have been around a long time. This will take a sustained effort to deal with.

“And it’s going to take people of power and privilege and that’s most of us white Episcopalians and white St. Louisans; it will take us becoming educated and becoming really good listeners and examining how we are being called to change some of these systems that led to the killing Michael Brown.”

The cathedral is having conversations about being part of that ongoing educational process, “and of healing, not healing to a point where everyone’s just sort of quiet again, but healing to where we reach a different level,” he said.

“We’re never bringing Michael Brown back, but somehow that this can be redeemed,” he said.

“It’s so easy in moments like this to cast one side, one person, one group of people as completely good and the other side as completely evil and we have to resist that at all costs. But, we are called to be ambassadors of Christ and ministers of reconciliation and we stand with everyone. We have to call all of us to be those images of God that are our best selves.

“That’s the long-term work of the church, to build relationships of love and respect with everybody so we can bring people together and say let’s listen to everybody and look at who God is calling us to be.”

–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.


Church groups mobilize to address West Africa Ebola outbreak

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Volunteers lower a corpse, which is prepared with safe burial practices to ensure it does not pose a health risk to others and stop the chain of person-to-person transmission of Ebola, into a grave in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. Photo: Reuters/WHO/Tarik Jasarevic

[Episcopal News Service] Two Episcopal Church priests with deep personal and professional roots in two of the countries being devastated by Ebola say that efforts to stem the deadly virus’ spread are being hampered by a slow response, lack of medical supplies, illiteracy, poverty and misinformation.

“The problem we have had is Liberians not taking preventive measures,” the Rev. James Tetegba Yarsiah told ENS Aug. 13, adding that up to a few weeks ago many Liberians were not paying attention to this “deadly disease.”

“It is now that they are getting very serious about it,” said Yarsiah, who is the chaplain and vicar at Voorhees College where he is also an assistant professor of religion and philosophy. He also is a leader in the Liberian Episcopal Community in the United States of America.

Yarsiah’s parents, siblings and mother-in-law plus other relatives and friends live in Liberia, which along with Sierra Leone and Guinea is at the heart of the worst outbreak of Ebola in history. He has been urging them to take preventive measures to protect themselves against the virus, he said.

They are “being very terrified and horrified by the way [Ebola] has ravaged and killed people in West Africa, so they are coming to the realization that this is very dangerous.”

“And they also see the suffering that it has brought upon the land,” he said.

James Yarsiah

Up until very recently, the Episcopal Church of Liberia, which has its roots in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and is now a part of the Anglican Church of the Province of West Africa, has not been doing much about Ebola, Yarsiah said.

“And the reason for that is this is something that has caught the entire country unexpectedly, and has moved so quickly and has caused so much havoc and death,” he explained, adding that the Episcopal Church in Liberia does not have the needed materials, facilities and medical supplies that are needed. The church, however, is trying to educate people, especially in rural areas, about how to protect themselves.

Archbishop Jonathan Bau-Bau Bonaparte Hart, who was elected in 2008 as the bishop of Liberia and became the archbishop of the Internal Province of West Africa in the Church of the Province of West Africa last month, told Yarsiah of the suffering and fear he sees in Liberia.

“He is fearful for his parishioners throughout the diocese,” Yarsiah said.

Ministering to an area affected by such a disease as Ebola is, Yarsiah said, “a burden on him and all the clergy and all the church.”

He said he has heard from fellow graduates of Cuttington University, founded in 1889 in southern Liberia by the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, who have lost family members to the virus. Some professional nurses who were Cuttington graduates have died, Yarsiah said.

That sort of news brings Ebola “close to home” for those living in the United States, he said. It makes people worry that they will soon hear bad news about their loved ones back home.

Yarsiah believes that while many Episcopal churches in Liberia are being touched by Ebola, most are still functioning. “This is a time that churches need to open their doors and help education people, help comfort and counsel people,” he said.

In an Aug. 8 call for prayers for the people of West Africa the Anglican mission organization Us., formerly known as USPG (United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), reported that Hart had told its staffers “we have joined hands with the council of churches, the government and other organizations in the fight against Ebola. Churches are educating our members to avoid contact with infected people, wash hands with chlorine, and not to panic.”

“We encourage the public to keep their environments clean,” Hart said, adding that the church is repeating the message of the health authorities in calling on Episcopalians also to “avoid hand shaking and, as much as possible, refuse unnecessary bodily contact.”

“We need disposable surgical gloves, chorine and basic hygiene kits to safeguard against Ebola,” Hart told Us.

Yarsiah said that the Liberian Episcopal Community in the United States of America is trying to help the church gather those supplies, using a list provided by the Liberian Council of Churches, of which Hart is the president, and another list posted on the website of the Liberian embassy in Washington, D.C.

More information about that effort is available on the organization’s website.

In late July, the Liberian Council of Churches called for three days of national “indoor fasting and prayer” Aug. 6-8. The call, which was reported in Liberian newspapers, began by saying that “God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God’s forgiveness.”

Ebola in Sierra Leone
In the Diocese of Texas, the Rev. Johannes George, a native of Sierra Leone, said he is hearing other kinds of misinformation about Ebola.

George has been in contact with friends and family daily for updates. Along with his congregation at Christ the King Episcopal Church in Houston, George has gathered a larger group of Africans in southwest Houston, to pray and raise money to help, the diocese reported Aug. 12. He also meets online each Saturday with Muslims and Christians across the country to pray for victims and health workers in Africa.

George said he has talked to people in his home town of Kenama, which is under quarantine.

“Nobody trusts anyone. They don’t trust the health workers; you don’t even trust your own family,” George said during the Diocese of Texas video interview.

“There is a conflict between the health workers and the traditional people,” he said, growing out of the people’s tradition of washing and anointing the dead and “giving them the final hug” before burial and medical workers’ efforts to keep people of having such contact with those whom Ebola has killed.

People, he said, need to be sensitized to the fact that they must behave differently during an epidemic. That fact is lost on some people, especially in rural villages, George said.

“They don’t believe that this is something coming from within,” he said. “The belief is that this is coming from the outside, coming from the West and that the West is infecting them with this.”

They do not understand that Ebola comes from eating monkey, insects and other “bush animals,” which George said the people eat for lack of other food. Disseminating information about Ebola and how it is spread is difficult because so many people are illiterate. Most do not have working radios or televisions, he added.

A New York Times’ story recently painted a grim picture of the virus’s spread in Njala Ngiema, where George once served and preached. The village of 500 has lost more than 10 percent of its population, many of whom are subsistence farmers.

George is worried that quarantines imposed to halt the spread of the disease will hurt the poverty-stricken population by cutting off what little food and water supplies villagers have. They will resort to drinking from polluted streams and eating more bush meat, he said.

The Times has reported that experts acknowledge that any cordon must let food, water and medical care reach those inside.

Ade Renner-Thomas, chancellor for the Diocese of Freetown, Sierra Leone, told Us. on Aug. 8 the Sierra Leone government has declared a state of public health emergency, which means there are quarantines in the areas most affected. Movements are restricted in certain areas, and gatherings of more than five people are prohibited.

“When we have met as a church, there are no more handshakes when we share the peace, etc.,” he told Us. “We need as much prayer as you can offer.”

Episcopal Relief & Development is working with its partners in both Liberia and Sierra Leone supporting awareness-raising efforts and providing personal protection equipment and disinfectants to under-resourced hospitals and clinics in the affected areas, according to an Aug. 6 press release.

The breadth of the outbreak
The current Ebola outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013 and now involves Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, according to a statement from the United Nations’ World Health Organization.

On Aug. 14, WHO said there were 1,975 cases of Ebola and 1,069 deaths reported in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

WHO has called the outbreak “the largest, most severe and most complex” since the disease was first seen in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1976. The disease killed 280 during that outbreak, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In his interview with the Diocese of Texas, George called for experimental drugs to be made available immediately. And on Aug. 13, the World Health Organization endorsed such use, with caveats.

The endorsement came after the organization convened a group of ethicists to consider the implications of responding to calls to use such drugs to try to save the lives of patients and to curb the epidemic even though they have not been evaluated for safety and efficacy in human beings.

“There was unanimous agreement among the experts that in the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention,” Marie-Paule Kieny, the World Health Organization’s assistant director general, said.

If and when the drugs are used to treat patients, “there is a moral obligation to collect and share all data generated,” the group said in an Aug. 12 summary of its discussion the previous day.

“There was unanimous agreement that there is a moral duty to also evaluate these interventions (for treatment or prevention) in the best possible clinical trials under the circumstances in order to definitively prove their safety and efficacy or provide evidence to stop their utilization,” the group said.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.