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‘New and creative ways of prayer’ available for everyday life

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] What is being called “a daily office for the 21st century” is now available to members of the Episcopal Church and beyond.

“Daily Prayer for All Seasons,” developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music offers a variation on the Book of Common Prayer’s tradition of prayers for morning, noon, evening and nighttime.

The books are divided by the liturgical year, and each of the services for each of the eight canonical hours of the day has a theme, including praise, discernment, wisdom, perseverance and renewal, love, forgiveness, trust and watch. A complete service covers one or two pages.

The prayer book presents a variety of images of God, uses inclusive and expansive language for and about God, and presents a rich variety of language, including poetry, meditation and prayers from the broader community of faith, according to a press release. Clergy, teachers and spiritual leaders across the Episcopal Church contributed to the work.

“These prayers will help you pray at all times and find the right words when necessary,” the Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones, a contributor to the volume who serves as priest for pastoral care and community at Trinity Wall Street, New York, said in the release. “In their diversity, these prayers are manna from heaven for folks who are seeking new and creative ways of prayer. This book will teach you how to pray.”

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings of Ohio, president of the House of Deputies, said she is “grateful to the leaders from across the Episcopal Church who have collaborated on this important new set of prayers for everyday life.”

Some of the prayers are being used during Nuevo Amanecer, a churchwide gathering of Latino/Hispanic members of the Episcopal Church, at the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina.

Work began in April 2007 on what eventually became known as “Daily Prayer for All Seasons,” according to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s report to the 76th meeting of General Convention (page 187 here) in 2009.

The next meeting of convention in 2012 approved the book (via Resolution A055) and it has now been published in English and Spanish in various formats by Church Publishing Inc. It is available in print and in eBook versions including Kindle, iBook and Nook formats. The print volume can be imprinted with a recipient’s name. Soft cover and leather-bound editions are available. A 37-page sampler from the book is here.

Sept.-Dec. bishop consecrations, elections and consents

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] In the next four months – September 1 to December 31 – the Episcopal Church will witness the consecrations of four bishops, the election of one bishop, and the consent process of two bishops.

Consecrations
Four consecrations of a bishop are slated for September to December.

September 6: Diocese of Maryland; the Rev. Canon Heather Cook was elected Bishop Suffragan May 2.

September 13: Diocese of Massachusetts; the Rev. Alan Gates was elected April 5.

September 27: Diocese of Mississippi; the Very Rev. Brian R. Seage was elected May 3.

November 8: Diocese of East Carolina; the Rev. Robert Stuart Skirving was elected May 17.

Elections
During September to December, one bishop election is scheduled:

October 25: Diocese of West Texas Bishop Coadjutor

Canonical Consent Process
Currently there are two canonical consent processes underway for September to December. The deadlines are:

October 16: The Very Rev. Brian R. Seage was elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Mississippi on May 3

October 31: The Rev. Robert Stuart Skirving was elected bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina, elected May 17.

Massachusetts Bishop Shaw offers update on illness

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

[Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts] Massachusetts Bishop Thomas Shaw, SSJE, sent a message to his diocese on Aug. 25 announcing that the brain cancer he has been battling since May 2013 is incurable and expressing gratitude for ongoing prayers and support.

“At the recommendation of my medical team, I’ve decided now to pursue a course of treatment that will provide a good quality of life, though for how long, we can’t be sure,” Shaw wrote. “My prayer feels different from day to day.  Some days there is an expansiveness to it, and on other days, it isn’t so easy, though there aren’t too many of those days.  But throughout, good days and more difficult days, I feel supported by you, the people of this diocese and beyond, and by your prayers, and I’ve felt my faith life grow in significant ways.  I am looking forward to what God will bring in this new time.”

Shaw, who has served the Massachusetts diocese as its bishop since 1995, is set to retire in September when the Rev. Alan M. Gates is ordained and consecrated as the 16th bishop of Massachusetts.

The full text of Shaw’s message follows.

My Sisters and Brothers,

As my date of retirement nears, I want to be in touch with all of you and to thank you for your continued expressions of care and concern.  We have known since the beginning, when I was diagnosed with brain cancer in May of last year, that we are dealing with a difficult kind of cancer.  We have been hopeful in the therapies we’ve pursued over these months, but we now know that for me there is no cure.  At the recommendation of my medical team, I’ve decided now to pursue a course of treatment that will provide a good quality of life, though for how long, we can’t be sure.

As hard as this is to hear and to tell, I didn’t want this time to go by without letting all of you know where things are.  My medical team continues to provide me with excellent care, and I have a wonderful community of support around me.  My prayer feels different from day to day.  Some days there is an expansiveness to it, and on other days, it isn’t so easy, though there aren’t too many of those days.  But throughout, good days and more difficult days, I feel supported by you, the people of this diocese and beyond, and by your prayers, and I’ve felt my faith life grow in significant ways.  I am looking forward to what God will bring in this new time.

You know, time too often in our culture is perceived as a problem; all of us, at some point, feel we don’t have enough of it. Yet, because of Jesus the Messiah, all time is now God’s time.  It is part of the unfolding of God’s glory.  We are invited into it as an experience of the presence of God.  I believe that is where our prayer, where our life together in gathered community, where our participation with God in making all things new is taking us: into the heart of God.

May each of us be opened to the possibility and the hope offered through God’s gift of time.

Our bishop-elect, Alan, will keep you informed of changes in my condition going forward.  I continue to cherish your cards and letters, and I want to say again how much I appreciate the years I’ve served as your bishop and all that you have taught me.  I plan to be part of the upcoming consecration, and I look forward to joining you in welcoming our new bishop.

Please pray for me as I pray for you.

Faithfully,

M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE

La Iglesia ve una función imprescindible en la justicia social y la reconciliación

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] En tanto la muerte a tiros de un joven afroamericano desarmado por un policía continuaba provocando protestas en Ferguson, Misurí, los episcopales a través de Estados Unidos se enfrentaban a la cruda realidad de que ello podría haber sucedido prácticamente dondequiera y con la difícil pregunta: ¿qué debería hacer la Iglesia al respecto?

A pesar de la muerte de Michael Brown el 9 de agosto y de su violenta secuela, la esperanza “es que ello será finalmente el toque de atención que necesitamos para abordar este problema”, dijo a ENS el obispo Stacy Sauls, director de operaciones de la Iglesia Episcopal. “Porque, en mi opinión, las relaciones raciales en Estados Unidos empeoran, no mejoran”.

Las enconadas relaciones entre el departamento de policía de Ferguson, predominantemente blanco, y la comunidad afroamericana dio paso a la violencia luego de que el agente Darren Wilson hiriera fatalmente a Brown, de 18 años. Después ha habido informes [discrepantes] de testigos presenciales y una autopsia independiente revelaba que Brown había sido alcanzado por seis disparos. Subsecuentemente, la policía de Ferguson identificó a Brown como sospechoso de cometer un robo.

Por su parte, clérigos y vecinos de la localidad denunciaron el nivel de violencia policial dirigida contra la comunidad mayoritariamente afroamericana.

Sauls dijo que las iglesias cristianas pusieron en marcha el movimiento de los derechos civiles “y yo creo que estamos presenciando un enérgico llamado a que participemos de nuevo. Una cosa podemos hacer, reunir a las personas para dialogar, no sólo a nivel local o regional, sino para un diálogo nacional. Eso puede tener un impacto muy positivo”.

De manera similar, los miembros jóvenes adultos de la Unión de Episcopales Negros (UBE, por sigla en inglés) citaban, en una declaración del 20 de agosto, entre otras cosas, “la subcultura del prejuicio contra la población negra que da lugar a esa secuencia de titulares [que informan] de otro estadounidense muerto en las calles de su barriada”.

La declaración les pide a los capítulos de la UBE de todo el país que ayuden a transmitir el mensaje “de manera que la voz profética de la Iglesia Episcopal resuene, al denunciar el legado de la opresión institucionalizada, en Estados Unidos y a través del mundo”.

Transmitir el mensaje: voces proféticas
Chester Hines comenzó a servir como capacitador de talleres antirracistas en la Diócesis de Misurí por elección propia y debido a las circunstancias.

“Crecí en el San Luis segregado. No importa qué institución menciones en San Luis, siempre —conforme a mi experiencia— han estado segregadas, incluso después de la legislación [federal] de los Derechos Civiles de 1964”, dijo Hines, que desempeña su primera colocación en un campo [pastoral] en la iglesia episcopal de San Timoteo [St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church] en Creve Coeur, como parte del proceso de ordenación diocesano.

Hines dijo que a él no le sorprendió el estallido de tensiones raciales en la vecina [comunidad de] Ferguson después del baleo de Brown. “Me sorprendió que no hubiese ocurrido antes y en más lugares”.

Él les transmitió sus lecciones de vida a sus hijos mellizos, Christian y Christopher, mientras crecían, en interés de su preservación, señaló él. “Eduqué a mis hijos a entender y estar al tanto de la segregación, la raza y el racismo, y que éste existía en San Luis”, dijo. “También les dije cómo se manifestaba”.

“Les enseñé, cuando cumplieron 10 años de edad, que se toparían con la policía, por seguridad cuando fueran a la galería comercial con sus amigos, y ellos tenían amigos blancos. Les enseñé las lecciones que yo sabía que iban a tener que aprender a fin de ser parte de la comunidad, porque estas fueron las lecciones que yo tuve que aprender y nada ha cambiado”, afirmó.

“Le dije lo que iba a suceder pero, les dije algo más importante, lo que sería su respuesta: aborden al policía con respeto y cortesía, sí señor, no señor. Les dan sus nombre. Sigan sus instrucciones, incluso si han de ser arrestados.

“Porque, este es el riesgo que se corre: si lo ofenden, o de alguna manera le transmiten a ese policía que lo están desafiando, les va a hacer daño físicamente o les va a romper la cabeza, y una vez que les rompa la cabeza o les dé un tiro, eso no puede arreglarse.

“Sin embargo, puede arreglarse si los llevan a la cárcel, porque yo puedo ir y sacarlos de allí. Pero en una confrontación física, yo no puedo hacer nada”.

Ahora que ambos hijos tienen 31 años y son abogados, dice él. “Todos los días me despierto y digo ‘amén’”.

‘Es difícil hablar de la raza’ – escuchen pues
El Muy Rdo. Mike Kinman, deán de la iglesia catedral de Cristo [Christ Church Cathedral] en San Luis, “intentaba escuchar a la gente sobre el terreno” en Ferguson y aconsejaba a otros a hacer lo mismo.

También invitó a los feligreses de la catedral, luego del oficio principal del domingo 17 de agosto, a pasar un tiempo juntos, sin hacer juicios, sin comentarios, sin discusiones, sencillamente escuchándose mutuamente. “Hubo lágrimas, cólera, confusión, una amplia variedad de sentimientos se expresaron, pero estaba tan sólo este espacio sacro y me di cuenta de que era la gracia”, afirmó.

“Hay personas que han dicho ‘no tengo ningún lugar para decir esto. Tengo miedo de hablar acerca de la raza, miedo de cometer una torpeza’. Necesitamos un lugar donde podamos equivocarnos.

“Esto es algo que podemos hacer como iglesia; ofrecer ese espacio seguro, para hablar acerca de la raza, porque acerca de la raza resulta muy difícil hablar”, agregó. “Pero, les dije a todos ellos, si no están hablando, no piensen en lo que van a decir después, tan sólo escuchen”.

El Rdo. Eric H. F. Law, sacerdote episcopal y fundador del Kaleidoscope Institute, con sede en Los Ángeles, que ofrece desarrollo de liderazgo y adiestramiento en la diversidad en ambientes multiculturales y cambiantes, se muestra de acuerdo “el primer paso tiene que ser escuchar a las personas que históricamente no han podido expresarse.

“La pregunta importante es: ¿quieren que se sigan produciendo estas explosiones esporádicas o realmente quieren encontrar un medio de comprometer a las personas a tener genuinas relaciones?”, dijo Law, que ayudó a coordinar los empeños de reconciliación luego de los disturbios de Los Ángeles de 1992.

“La conclusión es, ¿tenemos verdaderas amistades más allá de los fronteras raciales en este país, y puede nuestra Iglesia facilitar eso y no de una manera superficial, sino de un modo que podamos realmente intentar entendernos mutualmente?

Sauls dijo que después de que un jurado de la Florida encontró al vigilante George Zimmerman no culpable en julio de 2013 por la muerte a tiros de Trayvon Martin, la Iglesia Episcopal comenzó a laborar para instituir, por primera vez, un misionero para la reconciliación racial. En junio de 2014, Haidi Kim fue designada para ese cargo y Charles Wynder fue nombrado el misionero de la Iglesia Episcopal para justicia y defensa sociales.

“Yo sí creo en verdad que si tomamos seriamente la noción de que todos somos miembros del Cuerpo de Cristo, entonces tenemos que comportarnos de manera diferente los unos con los otros. El primer paso es escuchar a las personas que piensan diametralmente distinto a nosotros”, dijo Kim. En su nueva función, ella es responsable de facilitar el establecimiento y desarrollo de intercomunicaciones en la Iglesia para confrontar los problemas de racismo, en la Iglesia y en la sociedad. Wynder es responsable de hacer participar a los episcopales en la creación, dotación y capacitación de movimientos de defensa social y redes en pro de la justicia social tanto a nivel local como comunitario.

“Hubo un incidente en Nueva York este verano”, dijo Sauls, refiriéndose a la muerte por asfixia de Eric Garner, un afroamericano de Nueva York, a manos de agentes de la policía neoyorquina “y ahora el caso de Michael Brown, luego no se trata de una ocurrencia infrecuente”.

“Desafortunadamente,” agregó, “éste es uno de los anuncios más tristes que puedo hacer, que todos sabemos que esta tragedia volverá a repetirse”.

El Centro Interreligioso de Nueva York acogió con beneplácito el cercamiento del alcalde de la ciudad de Nueva York, Bill de Blasio, a los líderes religiosos como un modo de “sanar y profundizar las relaciones entre la policía y la comunidad” a raíz de la muerte de Garner. “Aplaudimos a los principales líderes religiosos por congregarse para el diálogo en este momento crítico”, dice el comunicado, que reconoce el importante papel que desempeñan los líderes de la fe popular “en mantener una coexistencia pacífica en sus barrios”.

Capacitación antirracista; convertirse en la amada comunidad
Para Hines y otras personas que dirigen las capacitaciones antirracistas a través de la Iglesia, los medios incluyen la historia de la Iglesia Episcopal, la carta pastoral de los 0bispos en 1994 sobre el pecado del racismo y resoluciones de la Convención General sobre el tema, así como algunas definiciones básicas.

“Conversamos sobre la historia de la Iglesia Episcopal, y hay de todo”, dijo Hines. “Tuvimos sacerdotes y líderes en la Iglesia Episcopal que fueron dueños de esclavos y miembros del Ku Klux Klan”

Henry Shaw, por ejemplo, fue un rico terrateniente y filántropo “que sólo en el pasado reciente reconocimos que era uno de los mayores esclavistas de San Luis”, dice Hines. “Gran parte de la riqueza que él le dejo a la Iglesia Episcopal tuvo su origen en los esclavos que poseía”.

El acuerdo sobre las definiciones de términos tales como prejuicio, discriminación e intolerancia también “nos llevan a un punto donde dialogamos los unos con los otros y podemos llegar a entender, con optimismo, lo que la otra persona dice”, añadió.

En Atlanta, un cambio de nombre, de la comisión diocesana de antirracismo a la “Comisión de la Amada Comunidad para el Desmantelamiento del Racismo”, hizo posible que los participantes llegaran a entender que “necesitamos desmantelar el racismo como parte de nuestra formación espiritual y no sólo al objeto de que podamos marcar la casilla para integrar la junta parroquial y para ser sacerdote”, dijo Catherine Meeks, de 68 años, profesora universitaria jubilada y miembro de la comisión.

“Hemos pasado de una enorme hostilidad abierta hacia nuestro curso de capacitación, a que las personas nos inviten a sus parroquias individuales”, dijo Meeks, miembro de la iglesia episcopal de San Agustín de Cantórbery [St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church] en Morrow, Georgia, cerca de Atlanta.

Al celebrar la Santa Comunión al comienzo de las sesiones también “concentramos toda la jornada en torno al principio de que esto es lo que somos como familia, esta es la obra que hacemos para ayudar a nuestra familia a que se restablezca”.

Hija de un aparcero y de una maestra de Arkansas, “éramos realmente pobres”, recuerda Meeks. “Éramos víctimas, en muchos sentidos, del racismo. Yo veía a mi padre muy herido por ello y de ahí por qué pongo tanto ahínco en cambiarlo”, añadió.

“Hice realmente un gran esfuerzo en no transmitirle a mis hijos gran parte del temor y la cólera que mi padre sentía”, agrega. “Y en verdad tuve que hacer un gran esfuerzo para sobreponerme un poco al temor.

“Me esforcé mucho en la crianza de mis hijos para que sintieran que tenían un lugar en el mundo y que podían ser personas independientes, pero con la conciencia de que son negros en Estados Unidos. Los sistemas aquí no están concebidos para beneficiar a las personas de color”, afirmó.

Eso significa, siguió diciendo, vivir una existencia dualista. “Crees que eres un hijo de Dios y que Dios cuida de ti y que tienes un lugar en el mundo y que recibirás las bendiciones que te corresponden. Pero vives en un país donde existen montones de sistemas concebidos para evitar que eso suceda, y tienes que convivir con esa realidad”.

Esperanza: ‘en la Iglesia tenemos una oportunidad’
Sauls dijo que las sesiones de seguimiento de eventos innovadores tales como “Cincuenta años después: el estado de la raza en Estados Unidos” de la Iglesia Episcopal, [que tuvo lugar] en noviembre de 2013, en Jackson, Misisipí, y un oficio de arrepentimiento en octubre de 2008 en la histórica Iglesia episcopal africana de Santo Tomás [African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas] en Filadelfia, se encuentran en las etapas de planificación.

Agregó que la oficina del Ministerio de Justicia y Defensa Social de la Iglesia Episcopal está haciendo acopio de recursos para que las comunidades de fe “inicien las conversaciones. Estamos empezando a reunir líderes de toda la Iglesia para continuar el diálogo y seguir edificando a partir de lo que hicimos en noviembre pasado”, en Jackson.

Kinman dijo que había recibido ofertas de algunos colegas, de distintos lugares del país, de venir a Ferguson para unirse a las protestas.

“Le estoy diciendo a las personas, dondequiera que se encuentren en este país, que si realmente quieren ayudar, aprovechen esta oportunidad y reúnan a su congregación, a su gente, y hagan la pregunta, ¿por qué creen que esto sucede?”, dijo.

“Hagan alguna labor educativa acerca de la raza, la clase, el poder y el privilegio. Pregunten: ¿quién en su comunidad es Michael Brown? ¿Quiénes en su comunidad serían esas personas que se encuentran ahora mismo en las calles de Ferguson? ¿Qué experiencia tienen de ser negro o mestizo en su comunidad?

Meeks está de acuerdo. “Esta situación en Ferguson sencillamente resalta que hemos tratado de aparentar que estamos donde no estamos. Podría ser en cualquier lugar de este país, y esto lo sabemos. Ferguson es sólo una puntita del iceberg. En verdad debemos prestar atención”.

Pero hay muchas razones para la esperanza, especialmente dentro de la Iglesia, afirmó.

“Mi esperanza radica en el hecho de que creo que en la Iglesia tenemos una oportunidad. Celebrar la Santa Comunión es tan importante porque nos recuerda que estamos comprometidos con algo mayor que nosotros mismos. Creo sencillamente que la Iglesia es el lugar donde podemos desarrollar un auténtico diálogo, una genuina confianza y modelar una manera diferente de ser los unos con los otros”, añadió.

“Hemos de recorrer un largo trecho para llegar allá, pero creo que tenemos una oportunidad si estamos dispuestos a ser consecuentes con lo que decimos que creemos”.

Hines contó que él contradijo a uno de los participantes en un taller de capacitación antirracista que él había dirigido la semana anterior en Sikeston, quien le dijo que el verdadero cambio parecía imposible.

“Mi esperanza es eterna, pero el cambio es muy lento”, puntualizó. “Le recordé que, antes de 1964 y de la legislación de los Derechos Civiles, yo no habría podido venir a Sikeston y quedarme en ningún lugar, salvo con un pariente. El cambio es posible si estamos de acuerdo en que lo es y avanzamos en esa dirección”.

Y añadió: “Creo que esta obra es necesaria y vital para la salvación de la Iglesia Episcopal. Miramos a nuestra historia y luego contemplamos los acontecimientos actuales y después identificamos para nosotros mismos lo que queremos que sea el panorama de aquí a diez años”.

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

Paul-Gordon Chandler named president/CEO of CARAVAN

Monday, August 25, 2014

[CARAVAN press release] Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, a mission partner with The Episcopal Church and the former Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Cairo, Egypt from 2003-2013, has assumed the role of President/CEO of CARAVAN, an interfaith arts non-profit (501c3) that seeks to “build bridges through the Arts between the creeds and cultures of the East and West.” CARAVAN started as an interfaith arts movement out of Cairo and became a non-profit organization based from Chicago this last March 2014. 

CARAVAN brings together many of the Middle East’s premier artists, with noted Western artists, to build respect, increase understanding and encourage friendship between the Middle East and the West. 

One of the flagship initiatives of CARAVAN is the globally recognized CARAVAN Exhibition of Visual Art. Each year this unique exhibition has garnered attention from the international press, media and art world, attracting thousands of visitors. In 2013, many thousands of Middle Easterners and Westerners viewed CARAVAN’s public art exhibition of painted donkeys (symbolizing “Peace and Compassion”) by premier artists from the Middle East and West, first throughout Cairo, followed by an estimated 120,000 people visiting CARAVAN’s exhibition in London, England at the world renowned St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

The 2014 CARAVAN Exhibition of Visual Art opens in late August at National Cathedral in Washington D.C. (August 30-October 6) and involves 48 premier and emerging Egyptian and Western artists (of Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds). Titled “AMEN—A Prayer for the World,” the exhibition seeks to express the deep, fundamental human acknowledgement of power and hope in the universe, for all peoples. This major arts initiative is an aspirational expression of hope and goodwill for the peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world. Following the exhibition in Washington D.C. it will move to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City (October 12-November 23).

Juan David Alvarado elected bishop of El Salvador

Monday, August 25, 2014

 

Bishop-elect of El Salvador Juan David Alvarado will in January of 2015 replace Bishop of El Salvador Martin Barahona who will retire. Photo: Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador.

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Juan David Alvarado was elected bishop of the Anglican-Episcopal Church in El Salvador on Aug. 23 at St. John the Evangelist Church in San Salvador.

His consecration/installation is scheduled for Jan. 24, 2015.

Alvarado, 52, will succeed the Rt. Rev. Martín Barahona who is retiring.

Elected in 1992, Barahona became the first Salvadoran to serve as bishop. Prior to Barahona’s election and the end of El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war, then-Bishop of Panama James H. Ottley oversaw the church in El Salvador from Panama.

Alvarado was elected from a slate of five candidates, including two North Americans.

The other candidates were:

  •  The Rev. Ricardo Bernal, 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.

Alvarado was elected on the second ballot with 35 of 50 lay votes and 8 of 14 clergy votes.

The bishop-elect is married to the Rev. Irma Alvarado; the couple has two children.

The Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador, along with the Anglican and Episcopal Churches in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and Nicaragua, make of the Anglican Church in Central America, or IARCA, as it is know by its Spanish Acronym.

West Texas announces six ‘potential’ coadjutor nominees

Monday, August 25, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] The Standing Committee of the Diocese of West Texas has presented six potential nominees for bishop coadjutor.

The potential nominees, all of whom are from the diocese, have provided biographical data, as well as answers to eight questions given to them by the Standing Committee. Each potential nominee’s profile can be viewed individually, or as a booklet here.

The potential nominees are:

  • The Rev. Scott Brown, 39, rector, St. Alban’s, Harlingen, Texas;
  • The Rev. Ram Lopez, 50, rector, St. George’s, San Antonio;
  • The Rev. Jim Nelson, 64, rector, St. John’s, McAllen;
  • The Rev. David Read, 49, rector, St. Luke’s, San Antonio;
  • The Rt. Rev. David Reed, 57, bishop suffragan, Diocese of West Texas;
  • The Rev. Robert Woody, 61, rector, Reconciliation, San Antonio.

The election is scheduled to take place on Oct. 25, at TMI – The Episcopal School of Texas a high school in San Antonio.

The six are referred to as “potential nominees” because the first ballot of the election will serve as a formal nominating ballot to enable them to become nominees for bishop coadjutor, according to a description of the process here.

The bishop coadjutor will eventually succeed Bishop Gary Lillibridge who in February called for the coadjutor. Lillibridge, 58, was elected bishop in October 2003 and was ordained to that office in February 2004. He will retire in 2017 at which point the coadjutor will become the diocesan bishop.

Consecration of the new coadjutor is set for Feb. 28, 2015.

Congo Anglicans re-elect Henri Isingoma as Primate

Monday, August 25, 2014

[Anglican Communion News Service] Congo Anglicans have re-elected the Most Revd Henri Isingoma as Primate of the Province de L’Eglise Anglicane Du Congo, giving him the mandate to lead the church there for another five years.

In an exclusive interview with ACNS today, Archbishop Isingoma said the re-election gives him an opportunity to continue with the various activities, projects and policies meant to develop the church.

“For instance, we need to revisit our Church’s constitution and adapt it to the realities on the ground,” he said. “We also need to work on restoring and promoting good relationships with other churches in the Anglican Communion and other denominations.”

In a closely contested election held yesterday in Kinshasa, by the House of Bishops, Archbishop Isingoma got five votes while the other candidate, Bishop of Kindu Diocese, the Right Revd Zacharia Masimango got four votes.

“Church planting will continue to be a top priority during this term,” said the Primate. “So far we have managed to add an extra four dioceses in order to reach as many people as possible in this vast Province.”

He also talked about the possibility of splitting the Province into two Provinces owing to the size of the country. He also raised the need to address some of the Province socio-economic problems.

“Poverty continues to be a major problem for our country and hence the need for investment projects in our various dioceses,” he said. “We also need to become self-reliant as a Church but in order to achieve this we need the support of our various partners to help build capacity.”

The Primate also spoke of the need to address the socio-political situation in the country. “There is a lot of violence in parts of the country and so we need to work with our neighbouring countries to help promote peace,” he said.

Abp Isingoma said theological education continues to play an important role in the Church and that they will continue working towards improvement of various infrastructures including support towards the Anglican University in Congo.

Abp Henri Isingoma is the third Primate and Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Congo. He studied at the Boga Institute and at the Nyankunde Institute, where he graduated in 1977. He has a degree in Theology and Human Sciences from the Superior Institute of Anglican Theology and a Master Degree in Theology from the Evangelical Theology Faculty of Bangui, Central African Republic.

He first served as Bishop of Katanga from 1997 to 2007 before being elected as Bishop of Boga in 2007, a position he held until 2009 when he was elected as third Primate and Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Congo. He also serves as Bishop of Kinshasa.

The Primate has since called for support and prayers in order for unity to prevail in the Church. He said: “All Anglicans need to work hand in hand to help build our church. We need to identify and address our common challenges as a church and help promote dialogue.”

Supporting Liberian church’s Ebola response

Friday, August 22, 2014

[Episcopal Relief & Development press release] Episcopal Relief & Development and the Episcopal Church of Liberia are mobilizing an awareness-raising campaign about Ebola prevention and treatment through church leaders and local volunteers in five counties.  The Church is also providing food supplies for health workers and quarantined patients through emergency response centers such as Phebe Hospital in Bong County.

In addition, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Africa Regional Office in Ghana has procured and shipped protective supplies to aid the Liberian Church’s response to the deadly epidemic.

“We sent disposable masks, gowns and gloves in addition to eye protection, which will give health workers some degree of safety,” said Vanessa Pizer, Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development.  “However, Ebola is highly contagious and these are just the most basic measures.  What is really needed are grassroots campaigns to advance accurate information about Ebola, so people can protect themselves and respond compassionately but effectively when they know someone is sick.”

Working through local priests, the Church is disseminating accurate information in nine dialects through fifteen radio stations. Church of Liberia staff have also created flyers in local dialects with clear explanations and instructions around Ebola prevention and response.  Volunteers will distribute the flyers and post them in churches and community buildings to reach as many people as possible.

Food relief is another critical aspect of the Church’s response.  Travel restrictions, quarantines and fears of spreading Ebola through commerce have led to shortages of food and higher prices for basic goods.  The Church’s development office is procuring food items in-country and transporting them to the most severely affected regions, and distributing supplies through hospitals and relief centers.

According to the World Health Organization, as of August 20, 1,350 people have died from Ebola in West Africa.  Liberia has been hardest-hit, with 576 recorded deaths since the outbreak began in March 2014.  The current Ebola epidemic is the worst since the virus was discovered in 1976, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called Zaire.

Due to shortages of medical supplies in Liberia, the Episcopal Relief & Development’s Africa Regional Office in Ghana purchased supplies in Accra and sent them via airfreight to Monrovia.  The shipment was met by Church staff, who will accompany the supplies to their destinations and facilitate distribution in cooperation with local volunteers and Ebola Task Force members.

The first distributions of informational flyers and medical supplies will take place in Robertsport and Benejah cities in Cape Mount, with additional distributions in Grand Gedeh, Bong, Lofa and Rivercess.

In correspondence with Episcopal News Service, the Most Rev. Jonathan B.B. Hart, Archbishop of Liberia, stated that people are struggling with 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 that he and other clergy and government leaders are urging people to set up hand-washing stations and to wash their hands frequently in chlorine-treated water.

“Because of the Church’s widespread presence in Liberia and its dedicated clergy and volunteer networks, they and Episcopal Relief & Development are very well positioned to promote accurate information and access areas that are hard to reach otherwise,” Pizer said.  “I am grateful to our partners there, who are putting themselves in harm’s way to try and save lives, and encourage prayers of support for them and the communities they are ministering to.”

Donations in support of Episcopal Relief & Development’s response to the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa may be designated to the Disaster Response Fund.

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.

Faithfully,

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