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WCC general secretary expresses concern over Ukraine

Monday, March 3, 2014

[World Council of Churches press release] “The World Council of Churches (WCC) is deeply concerned by the current dangerous developments in Ukraine,” the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC said on Monday, March 3.

“The situation puts many innocent lives in grave jeopardy. And like a bitter wind from the Cold War, it risks further undermining the international community’s capacity to act now or in the future on the many urgent issues that will require a collective and principled response,” he said.

“Out of concern for the lives and security of all people who are or might in the future be affected by the continuing failure to resolve this situation peacefully, I call urgently on all parties to refrain from violence, to commit to dialogue and diplomacy, and to avoid escalation by rash words or actions. The consequences of failing to do so will inevitably be much greater human suffering in Ukraine, and a deep rift in the social and political fabric of the region and in the wider international community,” Tveit said.

“Let us pray for wisdom, peace and justice to prevail.”

La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba adopta un plan estratégico de tres años

Monday, March 3, 2014

La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba celebró su Sínodo General anual en La Habana del 21 al 23 febrero. Foto: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Habana, Cuba] La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba tiene una clara visión en movimiento hacía su próximo trienio: ser una iglesia que unida en la diversidad, celebra, evangeliza, enseña, sirve y comparte el amor de Dios.

Llegar a esa visión ha sido “una experiencia muy enriquecedora”, pero a veces “algo difícil”, dijo la obispa Griselda Delgado de Carpio, durante una entrevista posterior al Sínodo General con la Episcopal News Service el 23 de febrero.

Para su plan estratégico del 2014 al 2016, la iglesia encuentra inspiración de la carta de Pablo a los Efesios, en concreto el capítulo 4, versículos 15-16: “sino que, siguiendo la verdad con amor, crezcamos en todo hacia aquel que es la cabeza: Cristo. De parte de él todo el cuerpo, bien concertado y entrelazado por la cohesión que aportan todas las coyunturas, recibe su crecimiento de acuerdo con la actividad proporcionada a cada uno de los miembros, para ir edificándose en amor”. Al final de los últimos tres años, el primer trienio completo de Delgado sirviendo como obispo, una visión más clara de la iglesia comenzó a desarrollarse tomando la evangelización como centro de escenario en la misión de la iglesia, ella dijo.

“A partir de ahí pudimos visualizar un plan concreto desde el cual tenemos que trabajar,” agregó.

Los objetivos del plan de tres años son los siguientes:

  • fortalecer el crecimiento de la vocación pastoral, el Ministerio Ordenado y el Ministerio Laico;
  • aumentar la sostenibilidad financiera a través de la mayordomía, la administración de proyectos y la exploración de otras fuentes nacionales;
  • aprovechar los espacios de reflexión y formación bíblica-teológica en lo local, arcedianal y diocesano, en temas de valores, ética, historia de la iglesia, espiritualidad y familia, utilizando nuestro liderazgo capacitado.
  • reforzar la visibilidad del quehacer de la iglesia dentro y fuera;
  • fortalecer la capacidad de gestión y organización (incluye la plantificación, control, evaluación y sistematización;
  • promover acciones pastorales de servicio y acompañamiento a personas y grupos  en condiciones de exclusión y vulnerabilidad, los ancianos, los que sufren de adicciones o son VIH positivas, y
  • obtener una mejor comunicación en toda la iglesia.

“Gracias a Dios que estamos obteniendo la participación de los jóvenes en la iglesia”, dijo. “Creemos que ellos no son sólo el futuro, sino el presente”.

Griselda Delgado del Carpio, posa con los niños después de la Eucaristía de clausura del Sínodo General. La iglesia en el plan trienal de Cuba prioriza la formación de los niños. Foto: Lynette Wilson / Episcopal News Service

Es por esa razón, agregó, que el plan se centra en la formación de los jóvenes, los niños y adolescentes y también aquellos en el camino hacia el sacerdocio que heredarán grandes responsabilidades.

“Sigo sorprendida por la tenacidad y el corazón misionero de la iglesia episcopal en Cuba”, dijo la Obispa Presidente Katharine Jefferts Schori en un e-mail a ENS.

“Ellos son un gran ejemplo para las congregaciones de la iglesia episcopal de lo que es el valor del desarrollo de recursos basado en la comunidad – valorando todos los dones que Dios ha provisto en este lugar, escuchar las necesidades de la comunidad en general, y colaborar para la misión y el ministerio. La obispa Griselda está dirigiendo un ministerio transformador en Cuba – Les insto a ir a ver si les es posible, desarrollar una asociación diocesana o parroquial, y aprender más. ”

Al Sínodo General anual de la iglesia episcopal de Cuba, realizado del 21 al 23de febrero en la Catedral de la Trinidad en La Habana, asistieron los episcopales y anglicanos de Estados Unidos y Canadá, incluyendo el arzobispo Fred Hiltz, primado de la Iglesia Anglicana de Canadá.

Durante su introducción a la convención, Hiltz describió a Delgado como “un gran embajador de Cuba, poniendo a la iglesia en Cuba en el mapa de la Comunión Anglicana de manera muy importante”.

Delgado fue instalado en noviembre del 2010, en sustitución al obispo Miguel Tamayo de la Iglesia Anglicana del Uruguay que sirvió a la Iglesia como obispo interino por seis años, y dividiendo su tiempo entre Montevideo y La Habana.

El obispo Julio César Holguín de la República Dominicana predicó durante la Eucaristía de clausura de la Asamblea General de la iglesia episcopal de Cuba. Foto: Lynette Wilson / Episcopal News Service

Después de la elección de Delgado, el obispo Julio César Holguín de la República Dominicana se convirtió en su mentor durante tres años, una relación que continúa de manera informal en la actualidad. Holguín encabezó una pequeña delegación, a Cuba del 18 al 25 febrero, para asistir a Sínodo General incluyendo a miembros de las diócesis compañeras.

La Diócesis de la República Dominicana tiene relaciones con unas15 diócesis compañeras con sede en los Estados Unidos, y en sí sirve como un complemento de la iglesia en Cuba, aunque de una manera más informal, “sentimental”, y como una expresión de solidaridad, dijo Holguín.

Pero la relación también ha adquirido un carácter práctico, por ejemplo, en la Convención General del 2009 la Iglesia Episcopal inició recortes en el presupuesto de $23 requeridos por la disminución de ingresos, lo que significó una disminución en las subvenciones a las diócesis de la Provincia IX y a los socios del pacto de la iglesia, incluyendo a Cuba.

Tras esa acción, el clero de la Diócesis de la República Dominicana se comprometió a dar el 1 por ciento de sus salarios, lo que equivale a alrededor de $3,000 Total, para ser compartido por el clero en Cuba, dijo Holguín, quien agregó que el salario mensual para el clero podría ser $7 o $8.

“Estábamos en una mejor posición que nadie para apoyar a la Iglesia en Cuba”, dijo. El presupuesto trienal de la iglesia episcopal asigna 106.000 dólares a la iglesia en Cuba.

El obispo Julio César Holguín de la República Dominicana y el arzobispo Fred Hiltz, primado de la Iglesia Anglicana de Canadá, hablan durante la hora del almuerzo del Sínodo General de la iglesia episcopal de Cuba. Foto: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Al igual que la iglesia episcopal en los Estados Unidos, la iglesia anglicana de Canadá ha tenido una larga relación con la iglesia episcopal de Cuba, dijo Hiltz

La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba es una diócesis autónoma de la Comunión Anglicana, bajo la autoridad del Consejo Metropolitano de Cuba. El Consejo está presidido por Hiltz e incluye a Jefferts Schori y Arzobispo John Holder de West Indies. El concejal ha supervisado la iglesia en Cuba desde que se separó de la iglesia episcopal en los Estados Unidos en 1967.

En seis años y un medio que Hiltz ha servido en el consejo, dijo, a pesar de la dificultad continua, él ha visto mucha esperanza en la iglesia, así como un impulso hacia el desarrollo del liderazgo. Tener un obispo a tiempo completo ha ayudado, añadió.

“La iglesia aquí en Cuba no es una institución, sino un movimiento, un movimiento del evangelio”, dijo Hiltz.

El domingo antes de la convención, el 16 de febrero, Hiltz y otros visitantes de la iglesia anglicana de Canadá visitaron una iglesia en casa en Luyanó, un área pobre de La Habana, donde la congregación que estaba muy llena celebró el Día de San Valentín, intercambiando regalos prácticos de jabón y pasta de dientes, dos necesidades que pueden ser difíciles de encontrar en Cuba.

Después de la Eucaristía, la congregación llevó al grupo a la obra de su iglesia, que después la cual fue destruido hace 30 años por un huracán y se está preparando para una consagración del Domingo de Pascua.

En lugar de simplemente construir un lugar de culto, dijo Hiltz, el templo incluye clínicas médicas y cuidado de los ancianos y un centro comunitario.

“Uno tiene la sensación de que la iglesia está realmente en la comunidad, allí por el bien de la comunidad”, dijo Hiltz. “Al verlo en terreno enriquece mi entendimiento y ayuda en la manera en que los mantenemos en oración”.

En el ofrecimiento de la oración, el contexto hace la diferencia, añadió

Obispa de Cuba Griselda Delgado del Carpio y el obispo Michael Bird de la Diócesis de Niagara hablan después de una sesión de trabajo. Cuba y Niagara renovaron recientemente su relación de diócesis compañeras. Foto: Lynette Wilson / Episcopal News Service

En la iglesia anglicana de la diócesis de Niagara de Canadá, las 91 parroquias rezan semanalmente para las iglesias en Cuba, dijo el Obispo Michael Bird, cuando fue presentado en el sínodo.

La iglesia de Canadá proporciona apoyo a la Iglesia cubana apoyando los programas, el clero y los estipendios de la facultad del seminario y por medio de relaciones de compañerismo diocesano.

La Diócesis de Niagara, por ejemplo, recientemente renovó su relación de compañerismo de una década con la iglesia en Cuba por otros cinco años.

“Cuba es una especie de diócesis especial en la Comunión Anglicana, y nuestra asociación es una forma de expresar solidaridad y amistad, una expresión popular de eso”, dijo el Rdo. Bill Mous, director de la diócesis de la justicia, la comunidad y los ministerios globales.

La iglesia episcopal de Cuba remonta sus orígenes a una presencia anglicana a partir de 1901. Hoy en día hay unas 46 congregaciones y misiones al servicio de 10,000 miembros y de las comunidades en general. Durante la década de 1960, el gobierno de Fidel Castro comenzó a tomar medidas enérgicas contra la religión, encarcelando a los líderes religiosos y a los creyentes, y no fue sino hasta la visita del Papa Juan Pablo II a Cuba en 1998, la primera visita de un Papa católico romano a la isla, que el gobierno comenzó un movimiento de regresión hacia la tolerancia de la religión.

La Revolución cubana, encabezada por Castro, comenzó en 1953 y duró hasta que el presidente Fulgencio Batista fue expulsado del poder en 1959. El gobierno anticomunista, autoritario de Batista, fue sustituido por un estado socialista, que en 1965 se alineó con el partido comunista. En 2008 Raúl Castro reemplazó en la presidencia a su convaleciente hermano.

Arzobispo Fred Hiltz, primado de la Iglesia Anglicana de Canadá, el obispo Julio César Holguín de la República Dominicana y el obispo Todd Ousley de la Diócesis del este de Michigan en procesión en la Eucaristía de clausura. Foto: Lynette Wilson / Episcopal News Service

Lo que sorprendió más al obispo Todd Ousley de la Diócesis del este de Michigan era la forma única de Cuba de ser anglicano.

“Lo que fue más sorprendente para mí fue el sentido de como estratégicamente contextualizaron la iglesia honrando con mucho cuidado su cultura cubana y fusionar eso con el anglicanismo,” dijo, y agregó que es claro en el plan estratégico que no sólo el liderazgo del obispo es importante, pero también la de los clérigos y los laicos.

También estaba impresionado, dijo, con el enfoque de la iglesia en temas de justicia y ayudar a los “más pequeños de estos”.

Obispo Miguel Tamayo Zaldívar, ex obispo interino de Cuba, y el obispo Ulises Aguero, obispo emérito de Cuba, durante la procesión de Eucaristía de clausura. Foto: Lynette Wilson / Episcopal News Service

La experiencia de la Iglesia cubana con el socialismo y su entendimiento de que todos deben trabajar juntos en solidaridad sirve como un buen modelo para la iglesia en Norteamérica y América Latina, dijo Ousley

La superposición con el inicio del Sínodo General de la Iglesia, un grupo diverso de la misión Anglicana Episcopal – incluyendo personas de los Estados Unidos, México, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador – visitaron la iglesia de San Francisco de Asís, en Cárdenas, provincia de Matanzas, localizada, en auto, a unas dos horas del este La Habana. El grupo fue dirigido por el Rdo. Canónigo Juan Andrés Quevedo, el rector de la iglesia del Redentor [Church of the Redeemer] en Astoria, Queens, y un arcediano en la Diócesis de Long Island.

Fue la primera vez en 13 años que Quevedo, quien nació en la ciudad de Matanzas y que asistió al seminario evangélico local antes de estudiar en el Trinity College, en Toronto, Canadá, ha estado de vuelta en Cuba.

En el pasto junto a San Francisco de Asís hay bloques de cemento que se disponen ordenadamente en filas, casi como lápidas en un cementerio, sólo estaban allí para evitar que las bancas recién lijadas y manchadas de la iglesia tocaran la hierba.

El grupo de la misión necesitaba un proyecto de servicio que esté terminado dentro de una semana para que, junto con el Rdo. Aurelio de la Paz Cot, ellos decidieran que lo mejor sería repintar las bancas, mientras que para los transeúntes, los bloques de cemento bien ordenados y las bancas secas se veían muy curiosas.

“Para nosotros fue un evento de evangelización”, dijo de la Paz, quien fue un compañero de seminario de Quevedo en Matanza, y agregó que las personas cercanas, curiosas por el trabajo y trabajadores, pasaban por aquí y preguntaban: “¿Quiénes son estas personas? ”

Y más que eso, para de la Paz, fue una “experiencia maravillosa” y que significó mucho para él y su congregación que la gente utilice su tiempo de vacaciones y sus recursos personales para venir a Cuba, y conocer su cultura, su gente y compartir algo de sí mismos, con otra gente que están un poco aislados.

Para los que viajaron a la isla, la experiencia fue tanto de alegría y como de dolor, dijo Quevedo, con muchos de ellos comparando la experiencia de su propio país con los regímenes totalitarios y los altos niveles de pobreza.

“Han visto un lado de la pobreza que no está familiarizado con ellos”, dijo, durante una visita a una granja orgánica cerca de Cárdenas dirigido por el Centro Cristiano de Reflexión y Diálogo. “Nuestros pobres son educados y eso los hace estar auto-conscientes de cómo vivir mejor, mientras que en sus países los pobres han sido golpeados hacia la desesperación”.

Esa conciencia de sí mismo también se puede ver en la forma en que la iglesia opera en Cuba.

“Es una iglesia muy cultural enraizada en la historia de Cuba”, dijo Carlos Austin, un seminarista de segundo año de la iglesia episcopal de Panamá.

La iglesia tiene un fuerte liderazgo, dijo, pero una de sus características más definitorias es la presencia  de la juventud.

“Los jóvenes realmente participan”, dijo Austin. “No es como en nuestros países, a lo mejor no son tan organizadas pero tienen la mano de obra”.

Como seminarista en el Seminario Evangélico de Teología de Matanzas, Austin pasa sus fines de semana sirviendo Cuatro Esquinas, una iglesia en Los Arabos, una comunidad a unos 65 kilómetros de distancia.

“Ellos son un ejemplo de lo que una iglesia debe hacer en una comunidad sabia,” dijo Austin, quien agregó que la iglesia sirve como un centro comunitario y dispensa medicinas y agua purificada. “El sacerdote y el liderazgo son vistos como ayuda; de donde yo vengo, nosotros [la iglesia] tenemos que aprender más acerca de la comunidad.

“Muchas veces parece que nos centramos en la evangelización hacia el interior, aquí no se centran en la evangelización, se centran en la misión y luego sigue la evangelización”.

Fue el Reverendísimo Julio Murray, obispo de Panamá, quien decidió que Austin asistiría al seminario en Cuba, en vez de Brasil, otra alternativa de Austin. Él es uno de los 17 seminaristas residentes, la escuela cuenta con 500 estudiantes de educación a distancia a través de Cuba.

El obispo quería que Austin estudiara teología en el contexto latinoamericano, y para Austin, al menos en un principio, le fue difícil porque la vida cotidiana en Cuba requiere fortaleza.

El transporte público en Cuba es limitado y puede tomar horas para recorrer distancias cortas, los bienes básicos como papel higiénico, jabón y pasta de dientes pueden ser difíciles de conseguir, independientemente de si se tiene o no el dinero para comprarlos, los salarios son bajos, con médicos que ganan menos de $20 al mes.

Si no fuera por la bondad de los miembros de la iglesia, dijo Austin, él ya se habría ido.

“Eso es lo que hizo la diferencia para mí aquí, la iglesia y la gente me acogieron”, dijo.

 – Lynette Wilson es una editora/reportera  para Episcopal News Service. Ella  estuvo en Cuba del 18 al 25 de febrero con una delegación dirigida por el bispo Julio César Holgún de la República Dominicana.

One candidate added to Maryland bishop slate

Monday, March 3, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland has announced one additional candidate to stand for election as bishop suffragan.

The Rev. Martha N. Macgill, 56, who was nominated via a petition process, is the rector of Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill in Baltimore, where she has served for 14 years. Macgill previously served communities in South Africa and Richmond, Virginia.

Macgill joins three other candidates who were announced in early February. They are:

  • the Rev. Canon Heather Cook, 57, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Easton;
  • the Rev. Nancy Gossling, 61, who is currently on a discernment sabbatical after having completed a ministry experience at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland and a Spanish immersion course in Barcelona, Spain; and
  • the Rev. Canon Victoria Sirota, 64, canon pastor and vicar of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.

The nominees will visit the diocese and meet with clergy and laity April 2-5, with locations to be announced. The election will take place during Diocesan Convention May 2-3 at Turf Valley Resort, Ellicott City.

The Rt. Rev. Joe G. Burnett served the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland as its assistant bishop since April 1, 2011, following the retirement of the Rt. Rev. John L. Rabb, bishop suffragan. Burnett had planned to end his tenure as assistant bishop with the consecration of the new bishop suffragan in the fall of 2014; however, his final day in the Maryland diocese was Dec. 31, 2013. Burnett became interim rector of St. Columba’s Church, Washington, D.C., on Jan. 1, 2014.

For videos and photographs, and detailed biographies, resumes and letters of introduction from the nominees, visit http://bishopsearchmd.org.

Royal couple to visit Sydney’s Anglican cathedral for Easter

Monday, March 3, 2014

[Sydney Anglicans] The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will visit St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney in April, as part of their Australian tour.

The royal couple, along with Prince George, will fly to Australia via New Zealand, landing on April 16th.

Buckingham Palace has now released the itinerary showing Prince William and the Duchess will attend the Easter Day service at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney and sign the First Fleet Bible.

Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies, who will preach at the service, said he will be “delighted to welcome the royal couple to the celebration of Easter at the Cathedral church of St. Andrew.”

The couple will also visit Brisbane, Uluru and Canberra.

On Anzac Day, Prince William will lay a wreath during a Commemorative Service at the Australian War Memorial and plant a Lone Pine tree, the seed of which came from Gallipoli in the Memorial Garden.

Bishop Sean Rowe is elected provisional bishop of Bethlehem diocese

Monday, March 3, 2014

[Canticle Communications] A special convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem on March 1 elected the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe as the provisional bishop of Bethlehem.

The diocese comprises 14 counties in northeastern Pennsylvania and includes the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Hazleton, Reading, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.

“It’s a great day in the kingdom,” said Rowe after his election. “I am humbled and count it a privilege to stand before you today as your bishop. I am excited about this opportunity to serve you.”

Rowe has been bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania for seven years, and will continue in that role. His position in the diocese of Bethlehem will continue for three years.

“My style is a collaborative one in which we will work together — bishop, clergy and lay leaders,” said Rowe in an address to the convention following his election. “I hope you will find yourself welcome to a table large enough to hear your voice. Collaboration requires relationships of substance, and I want to spent time getting to know you, hear your stories, and learn to care about those ministries for which you have great passion and excitement.”

All of 64 of the clergy present and 99 of the 100 laypeople voted in favor of Rowe’s election, which required a two-thirds vote.

“The Standing Committee chose Bishop Sean as our nominee for provisional bishop because of his stable, forward-thinking leadership in Northwestern Pennsylvania,” said the Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns, president of the Standing Committee in Bethlehem and rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton. “He has a strong track record of building relationships with clergy and lay leaders and proven skill at resolving conflict directly and effectively. We’re delighted at his election and grateful that the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania has so readily agreed to undertake this innovative arrangement with us.”

“Today you did not elect the smartest or the most spiritual bishop ever. The fact is, there are people here who have been praying twice as long as I’ve been alive,” said Rowe, who is 39. “What you’ll get is one who is faithful to God, at least most of the time, and one who stands firmly on the promises of Jesus Christ. I am your servant.”

The Diocese of Bethlehem’s previous bishop, the Rt. Rev. Paul V. Marshall, retired on Dec. 31 after a terminal sabbatical. On Jan. 1, the Standing Committee announced its plan to call a provisional bishop for a three-year term.

Rowe will take up his new duties immediately and by August 2014 spend half of his time in each diocese. He, his wife, Carly, and their one-year-old daughter, Lauren, will have a home in both suburban Erie and in Bethlehem.

Rowe was ordained bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, which comprises 33 congregations in 13 counties, in 2007. He is known for developing transformational leadership and is a Ph.D. candidate in organizational learning and leadership at Gannon University. He is a 2000 graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and a 1997 graduate of Grove City College. He serves as parliamentarian for the House of Bishops, chair of the Episcopal Church Building Fund, and member of the General Board of Examining Chaplains, the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, and the Council of Advice to the President of the House of Deputies.

The Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem comprises 63 congregations in the 14 counties of northeastern Pennsylvania. To learn more, visit www.diobeth.org. The Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania comprises 33 congregations in the 13 counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. To learn more, visit www.dionwpa.org.

Mississippi diocese announces 5 nominees for bishop

Monday, March 3, 2014

[Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi] The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Mississippi announced its slate of nominees for election as bishop coadjutor to become the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Mississippi. The announcement was made on Saturday, March 1.

The nominees are:

  • the Very Rev. Michael J. Battle, vicar, St. Titus Episcopal Church, Durham, North Carolina;
  • the Rev. Marian Dulaney Fortner, rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi;
  • the Rev. Dr. R. Stan Runnels, rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Day School, Kansas City, Missouri;
  • the Very Rev. Brian R. Seage, rector, St. Columb’s Episcopal Church, Ridgeland, Mississippi; and
  • the Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, rector, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Denver, Colorado.

A petition process for submitting additional names opens on March 3 and will close on March 7, 5 p.m. CST.  Complete information about the petition process and the petition form are available on the diocesan website.

The slate is the result of a 10-month discernment process conducted by the Nominating Committee, made up of lay and clergy members representing all convocations of the diocese. The Nominating Committee was established and charged by the Standing Committee. With the announcement of the slate, a Transition Committee, also reporting to the Standing Committee and comprising lay and clergy members from across the diocese, implements the next stages of the election process.

The nominees will be in Mississippi, April 7-11 and will be introduced at three open question-and-answer sessions. The sessions will be held at Coast Episcopal School, Long Beach on April 8; St. Andrew’s School, Ridgeland on April 9; and All Saints Church, Grenada on April 10.  While in Mississippi, the nominees will visit the John M. Allin Diocesan House, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the Duncan M. Gray Camp and Conference Center and various ministries of the diocese.

The election will take place on Saturday, May 3 at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Jackson.  All canonically resident clergy of the diocese and lay delegates vote separately as “orders”; a majority of votes on the same ballot from both the clergy and lay orders is required for election.

Pending consent from a majority of the Episcopal Church’s diocesan bishops and a majority of dioceses (via their Standing Committees), the consecration and ordination of the bishop-elect is scheduled to take place on Saturday, Sept. 27 at the Jackson Convention Complex in Jackson, with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori presiding.

Ashes to Go or not to go, that seems to be the question…

Monday, March 3, 2014

It’s that time of year when we will be treated to enthusiastic media reports and Facebook posts about fellow clergy “taking to the streets” on Ash Wednesday. Perhaps you are planning to do just that. You might be thinking, “What an innovative, relevant, outward-focused, accessible, hospitable, humble ministry to undertake.”

Before you put on your gear and head out with the Lenten swat team, can we be real for a moment? I know you are chomping at the bit to “meet people where they are” at your local commuter hub, but please pause with me in the sacristy for just a second.

I was so nervous about offending you that I almost decided not to put this out there, which says plenty about the fragility of my own clerical ego. But I need to be honest with you about how weird this “Ashes to Go” thing is. It’s really quite macabre to impose a sign of mortality and repentance without the freeing experience of ritual repentance or the pronouncement of God’s absolving grace by a priest of the church. I know you prepared a nice post card with Psalm 51 and a forgiveness prayer – but that doesn’t get the job done. Also, I’m wondering if you will be at the same corner on Easter Day to proclaim the Resurrection…but let’s stick with Wednesday for now. It’s hard to make a right beginning of Lent while on your way to Target after work. If one wishes to repent, they might prefer to speak with you privately or offer a prayer of the church in a less hurried manner. Those who can’t make it to scheduled Ash Wednesday liturgies often drop by a local church between services to receive ashes from the parish priest. I have never seen someone turned away.

Do we have the practice of standing on street corners offering last rites to anonymous ambulances as they pass by? Better to go to the hospital and spend a little time, no? I understand that God’s grace works in mysterious ways. The saints of God are doing their thing in schools, or in shops or at tea and all that – but why are we stalking people with ashes as they go about their business? Why are we turning Ash Wednesday into freaky Friday? Every morning is still Easter morning, right? Or did I lose the plot at some point?

I am totally with you on taking church to the streets. Let’s do it! Our common life as Episcopalians is grounded in the Eucharist and rooted in resurrection. Why don’t we begin by offering the body and blood of Christ outside the sanctuary? How about washing and massaging the feet of weary commuters waiting for the bus? Let’s offer anointing with holy oil for healing on the sidewalks. Why don’t we venerate the feet of the homeless and outcast on Good Friday at a local shelter? How many baptisms have we conducted in a public park lately? Why don’t we set up hours to hear confessions in local bars and offer God’s forgiveness?

Why start with ashes? Ashes rather than water, or bread, or wine, or oil is a strange place to begin from the perspective of ritology. Religious signs and symbols operate differently outside their ritual contexts. Are we not worried about re-defining ourselves as “people of the ash?” Just to put my money where my mouth is…I presided at a Eucharist in the Hyatt parking lot while I was chaplain to Integrity at General Convention in 2012. During the Eucharist, a young adult was baptized in the hotel fountain while cars and pedestrians and pigeons passed by. It seemed to work. I’m serious about these “hit the streets” ideas and many of my colleagues and I have tried them. The streets are a great place for the rites of the church. Preaching in the streets has transformed my understanding of preaching dramatically as a preacher and a teacher of preaching- so I’m not just a spokesman, I’m a client.

My concern is this: I fear that Ashes to Go is a way for cloistered clergy and baby boomer bishops to check the box of relevance while presiding over an institution that is not “meeting people where they are” in ways that really matter. Ashes to Go risks nothing, it costs us nothing, and it bears witness to a wimpy church. Please prove me wrong on this point.

I intend to check this out with my therapist and spiritual director, but I have a hunch that most of us who vest in alb and stole and stand for a few hours on the sidewalk with a dirty thumb are desperate to feel that we (and by extension the church) have something real to offer. We do have something to offer and its Jesus Christ. Living out our vocations as priests is often grueling and thankless, even in the midst of many blessings. Let’s be honest about that and help each other to really walk in the ways of Jesus Christ, rather than participating in empty ritualism. If you have a robust street ministry, then by all means – ashes should be a part of it. But too many of us in the ashes only category will congratulate ourselves on having participated in a radically welcoming street ministry this Ash Wednesday. What will we really have accomplished in Christ’s name? Who will really have been served?

Why don’t we take our ministry to the streets for real?! Let’s spend more time at the county jail. Let’s join local protests against inhumane corporate practices. Let’s deal with greedy landlords. Let’s go to city council meetings and hold the feet of elected officials to the fire. You know, Jesus stuff. Amos said something about God taking no delight in our solemn assemblies. Let’s be real about the ongoing need for the institutional church to publicly repent of its apathy, survivalism and indifference to human suffering.

Let’s agree that if Ashes to Go is the only liturgical street performance we do, it falls a bit short of the Great Commission. Under scrutiny, it appears to be a disconnected feel-good give-away ministry in which we clergy self-importantly smudge our neighbors and go home satisfied. Hey, we reminded each other of our common mortality. News Flash: People are well aware of their mortality. They are suffering. It would be better for us to go out and glitter bomb people while shouting, “God loves you!” Then we could dance embarrassingly down the road to the next missional endeavor. I ask you, my colleagues, why not give the people a garland instead of ashes? Why not give people reason to believe that the church is a very present help in time of trouble? Not notionally. Really and truly. We do that by hitting the streets genuinely, not gesticulating oddly with a crystal jar of ashes on the light rail.

When the Christian people of God are moved by the Holy Spirit to remember that they are dust and begin again, they will find their way to a local church. Let’s not get our ashy hands all up in their business and tell ourselves it’s an act of evangelistic kindness. We’re Episcopalians. Let’s live as if we are a resurrected people. Lets serve our neighbors faithfully, selflessly and humbly every day. Then folks will know by our actions that, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”

Ash Wednesday services in my parish are at 7am, noon and 7pm. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, come join us. You’ll be very welcome.

Your brother on the road,
The Rev. Michael Sniffen
Rector of The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, Brooklyn

6th Bishop of Texas Bishop Maurice ‘Ben’ Benitez dies at 86

Monday, March 3, 2014
[Episcopal Diocese of Texas] The Rt. Rev. Maurice “Ben” Benitez, sixth bishop of Texas, died Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 in Austin. He was 86. Previous to being elected bishop in 1980, he served as rector of St. John the Divine, Houston, and had previously served churches in Florida and San Antonio.

Benitez graduated from West Point in 1949 and was commissioned in the U. S. Air Force, when he met and married Joanne Dossett. In 1950 the couple was stationed at Williams Air Force Base, Chandler, Arizona, where Benitez flew jet fighters, later serving with the 527th Fighter-Bomber Squadron in Germany during the tense days of the Cold War.

In 1955, he entered seminary at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, and was ordained in 1958. He served at St James’ Episcopal Church, Lake City, Florida, and at St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville, Florida, before being called as rector of Grace Church, Ocala, Florida. His years at Grace were marked by tensions of the civil rights movement. Benitez received threats and hate messages as he stood against segregation, integrating his parish school even before the public school system did the same. He was held in such wide respect that when the public system’s teachers later went on strike, he was asked by both sides to act as mediator.

He was called as rector of Christ Church in San Antonio in 1968 where his reputation and energy for evangelism continued to grow. Benitez came to St. John the Divine, Houston, as rector in 1974, where he implemented popular forms of Christian renewal and evangelism.

During his 15-year tenure as bishop (1980-1995), the diocese continued to present more people of all ages for confirmation than any other diocese in the Episcopal Church. Benitez was widely regarded as a friend of the popular renewal movement in the church and early in his episcopacy, he conducted a Venture in Mission campaign to support domestic and world mission. Benitez provided strong leadership in the nascent years of the Episcopal Foundation and founded Episcopal High School in Houston, raising more than $40 million over a 12-year period for land and construction. The school’s chapel is named in honor of Bishop and Mrs. Benitez.

Benitez served as chair of St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and provided leadership during a period of growth for the hospital and the Texas Heart Institute. While he was bishop, the Diocese’s Quin Foundation more than doubled its value and Camp Allen added a third campsite, a lake and a chapel to respond to growing needs of youth from the diocese’s 150 congregations.

Benitez also brought a focus on the changing demographics in Texas. While he coped with challenges to the church brought by the recession in the late 1980s, the collapse of the oil business and the resulting banking crisis, he laid the foundations for a vibrant Spanish-speaking ministry in the diocese, opening the first Hispanic missions, recruiting Spanish-speaking clergy and appointing the first Hispanic missioner for the Province. He responded to the increasing Hispanic populations’ needs with the establishment of El Buen Samaritano, the diocesan social service agency in Austin.

Benitez served on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, and for 12 years on the board of the Church Pension Fund as well as chair of Seminary of the Southwest in Austin.

Benitez was predeceased by his beloved wife of 63 years, Joanne, and is survived by their three daughters Jennifer Benitez Shand, Leslie Anne Benitez and Deborah Benitez Smith; grandsons Ben Shand, Peter Shand, Isaac Young, Evan Young, Taylor Smith and Charlie Smith; and by his sons-in-law, the Rev. William M. Shand, III and Dr. James L. Smith, Jr.

Services for Benitez will be held at St. Luke’s on the Lake, 5600 Ranch Road 620 N. in Austin on Monday, March 3 at 3 p.m., and at St. John the Divine, 2450 River Oaks Blvd. in Houston on Thursday, March 6 at 12 noon. Memorials are suggested to the Episcopal High School, Camp Allen Conference & Retreat Center, or to one’s home parish.

Obituary and memorial guestbook available online here.

Zambia Anglicans launch early childhood development program

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Zambia program, involving more than 8,000 children under five years and their caregivers, tries to address the multiple deprivations in terms of health, nutrition and protection. Photo: Bellah Zulu/ACNS

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Church in Zambia has launched its early childhood development (ECD) program in Eastern Zambia to “provide integrated services that address the child holistically in terms of health, nutrition, protection and education.”

The launch was held in one of Zambia’s rural constituencies called Msanzala in the Anglican Diocese of Eastern Zambia. In attendance were government officials and all bishops from Zambia, including the Archbishop of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, the Most Rev. Albert Chama. Others attendees included the local area traditional chief and representatives from UNICEF.

“The Anglican Church does not just end by preaching the good news at the pulpit,” Chama told the more than 1000 people at the event. “We’re here also to touch the people’s lives and hence our desire to collaborate with the state and other partners to improve the people’s lives.”

The archbishop was hopeful that the program would not only be limited to one area but spread to other parts of the country. He also expressed his wish for an education that will not only make children excel in academia alone, but also make them responsive members of our communities.

The government of the Republic of Zambia was represented by Dr. John Phiri, the minister of education, science, vocational training and early education. He was accompanied by his Deputy Minister Patrick Ngoma as well as the area Member of Parliament Col. Joseph Lungu who is also Deputy Minister of Defense.

“I thank the Zambia Anglican Council for inviting me to launch this program because it is an opportunity for me to see the germination and growth of early childhood education especially in the rural areas of this country,” said the education minister.

He added: “Early childhood education is part of our mandate as a government but a lot of collaboration is needed in order for us to effectively implement the program.”

Grace Mazala Phiri is the national programmes director for the Zambia Anglican Council. She explained that the main purpose of the programs is to help the children reach all the developmental milestones as well as to support their parents or caregivers.

“We’re focusing on children who are 0-6 years so that their health is good and minds stimulated to learn. Most African parents have little or no time to play with their children,” she said.

She added: “We have decided to scale up this program because of the progress that we made in similar programs in the past. We have been able to partner with many other organizations such as UNICEF and have been able to increase the early childhood centers to 53 in this area.”

A typical early childhood education center would have a sizable play park with swings and slides for children and would often offer food supplements to the children who usually come from impoverished and disadvantaged homes.

One of the UNICEF-Zambia representatives Given Daka said that children who have had early childhood education usually have a head start in primary education. “Investment in ECD is in essence an investment in Zambia’s future,” she said.

“ECD is a priority for UNICEF world over and well as in Zambia and we have been providing financial and technical support to the Ministry of Education in Zambia.”

Despite overwhelming evidence that early childhood education is a critical requirement for the later social and intellectual growth of the child, only 2 per cent of Zambian children have access to early childhood education.

The Zambia Anglican Council (ZAC) in partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development in the USA established this community-based, volunteer-driven Early Childhood Development Program which started in three provinces of copperbelt, central and north western.

The program, involving more than 8,000 children under five years and their caregivers, tries to address the multiple deprivations in terms of health, nutrition, protection, and early stimulation, which combine to effect their cognitive, language, social-emotional and physical development during the critical formative period.

Faith leaders write Kerry on Israeli-Palestinian two-state agreement

Friday, February 28, 2014

[National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East press release] In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry thirty-three leaders of Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious organizations advocated that “public support by leaders and members of our three religious communities, both here and on the ground in the region, will be essential to encourage success in negotiating a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.”  The leaders believe, “a negotiated two-state peace agreement (is) the only realistic resolution of the conflict.”

The leaders requested a meeting with Secretary Kerry at an appropriate time “to discuss how we can help” and they urged Kerry “to meet personally with religious leaders on the ground in Jerusalem, most importantly including leaders of the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land (CRIHL).”

While acknowledging “that some in our communities will oppose any compromises,” these leaders affirmed their support for “benchmark principles and practical ideas developed in earlier official and informal negotiations that provide possible elements for necessary compromises on key issues that could be acceptable to majorities of Israelis and Palestinians.”

The full text of the letter follows.

February 28, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. Secretary,

We write to you on behalf of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (NILI) that involves present and past heads of twenty-five Jewish, Christian, and Muslim national religious organizations. Several leaders of NILI were privileged to attend your briefing in Georgetown on the current status of negotiations for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

We look forward to continuing progress in the negotiations.  We agree with you that public support by leaders and members of our three religious communities, both here and on the ground in the region, will be essential to encourage success in negotiating a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

In this context, we request a meeting with you at an appropriate time to discuss how we can help here at home. We also would urge you to meet personally with religious leaders on the ground in Jerusalem, most importantly including leaders of the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land (CRIHL).

CRIHL includes the highest official local religious leaders who have consistently condemned incitement and hateful acts of vandalism against any holy sites. At its founding, these leaders declared that nothing in their three traditions justifies killing of innocents and in 2010 CRIHL wrote to Special Envoy George Mitchell supporting negotiations and reiterating “the importance of respecting the attachments of the three religions – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – in the holy land and especially in Jerusalem.”

We believe the coming months are critical to achieving a negotiated two-state peace agreement, the only realistic resolution of the conflict. While we know that some in our communities will oppose any compromises, as leaders of NILI we support benchmark principles and practical ideas developed in earlier official and informal negotiations that provide possible elements for necessary compromises on key issues that could be acceptable to majorities of Israelis and Palestinians.

We look forward to meeting with you and to working with you for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Respectfully,

List of endorsers follows - 

Christian Leaders:

Bishop Richard E. Pates, Chairman, USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington
Bishop Denis J. Madden, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore
Archbishop Vicken Aykasian, Director, Ecumenical Affairs, Armenian Orthodox Church in America
Archimandrite Nathanael Symeonides, Office of Ecumenical Affairs, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Jim Winkler, President/General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ USA
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Reverend Geoffrey Black, General Minister & President, United Church of Christ
Reverend Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister, President, Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ)
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, Council of Bishops, United Methodist Church
Bishop Neil I L. Irons, United Methodist Church
Richard Stearns, President, World Vision US
Reverend Leighton Ford, President, Leighton Ford Ministries, Board Member, World Vision US
David Neff, former Editorial Vice-President, Christianity Today
John M. Buchanan, Editor and Publisher, Christian Century

Jewish Leaders:

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Rabbi Elliot Dorff,  Ph.D. Rector and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, American Jewish University
Rabbi Burt Visotzky
Rabbi Jason Klein, President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Rabbi Amy Small, Past President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Rabbi Peter Knobel, Past President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Paul Menitoff, Executive Vice President Emeritus, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman, Rabbi Emeritus, The Temple, Atlanta Georgia

Muslim Leaders:

Imam Mohammed Magid, President, Islamic Society of North America
Dr. Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, National Director, Islamic Society of North America
Naeem Baig, Executive Director, Islamic Circle of North America
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Founder of ASMA Society and the Cordoba Initiative
Imam Yahya Hendi, Founder and President, Clergy Beyond Borders
Dawud Assad, President Emeritus, Council of Mosques, USA
Eide Alawan, Interfaith Office for Outreach, Islamic Center of America
Iftekhar A. Hai, Founding Director, United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance

*Organizations for Identification Only

Historically black colleges challenged by economic hardships

Friday, February 28, 2014

A procession during the opening convocation for 2012-2013 at Voorhees College, a historically black college affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Students at the South Carolina school often participate in worship at St. Philip’s Chapel on campus, including as acolytes.

[Episcopal News Service] For more than a century, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) affiliated with the Episcopal Church have worked to provide high-quality education to students who often faced limited academic opportunities. Formed to educate African-Americans when schools were segregated, they continue to fill an important academic role and serve their host communities as well, say school and church leaders.

But economic challenges, including the tightening of federal loan standards that has reduced enrollments and thus cut revenues, are stressing such institutions nationwide. Of the three affiliated with the Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, closed in June, and St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, recently furloughed employees as part of an effort to combat financial troubles. Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina, has seen enrollment drop and is planning a capital campaign to improve its financial situation, its president said.

“They’re all struggling financially, even state institutions,” said Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which provides school accreditations in the region. “[Of] the small, private institutions, of which most of the HBCUs are, a lot of the faith-based ones are struggling financially and trying to keep tuitions low.”

Seventy-five historically black colleges and universities are accredited by the association, which Wheelan said accounted for about three-quarters of such institutions nationwide.

“Devastating to just about all of the HBCUs this past year were the changes in the Parent PLUS Loan [program],” she said. The federal Department of Education tightened loan requirements, so many parents who had received approval for educational loans one semester then lost approval the next, and their children couldn’t afford to return to school, she explained.

Students from Voorhees College.

Voorhees’ enrollment is some 550 students, down about 100 since last year, said Cleveland Sellers Jr., college president. The economic downturn and unemployment hit the college’s families hard, and interest on college loans rose last year, he said. Sequestration cuts also hurt. “The message is that college is not affordable, especially to lower-income families. That’s wrong. That’s just a sin. It’s the most important investment you can make.”

In the fall of 2013, the nation’s 100-plus HBCUs lost 17,000 students, cutting revenue by $150 million, he said. “We can’t stand any reduction in revenue. We’re already on the margin in many instances.”

Most of the schools have minimal endowments, he said. “We don’t have any kind of way to make up for our students who are not here.”

St. Paul’s announced in a June 4 press release that it was closing “temporarily to pursue other opportunities consistent with its purpose and mission” after the “unexpected termination of a proposed merger with another HBCU.”

Before the 125-year-old school ceased operations June 30, its enrollment had slipped below 100 students, according to a Diverse: Issues in Higher Education article. St. Augustine’s decided in May to nix a proposed merger, which would have meant the assumption of $4 million to $5 million in St. Paul’s debts by the North Carolina college, Diverse reported.

“St. Paul’s worked with surrounding schools to get their students transferred,” Wheelan said.

“The Episcopal Church was very much involved in the conversation with St. Paul’s and making every effort possible to avoid the closing of St. Paul’s College,” said the Rev. Canon Angela Ifill, missioner for black ministries and liaison to the three church-affiliated HBCUs. “It is very, very sad for us.”

Now, St. Augustine’s also is struggling financially, Wheelan said.

The Raleigh News and Observer reported Feb. 20 that declining enrollment in 2013 caused a $3 million drop in net tuition revenue; a contractor of the school’s football stadium sued for breach of contract, alleging the university owed it almost $675,000; and the university had eliminated 15 jobs, mostly through attrition and retirements.

Five days later, a university press release announced staff furloughs for March 9-16 as “part of a strategic plan to help the university maintain a strong financial footing.”

“Although not a complete solution, the institution is doing what is necessary to combat the impact of federal and state cuts, which has had a direct impact on our enrollment,” the release said.

“Although our situation is not unique, we are regretful that we have had to take this type of action,” President Dianne Boardley Suber said in the release. “We recognize the impact that this furlough will have on families, and we don’t take this decision lightly. As an institution, we are focused on moving forward and are confident that the tough decisions we are making now will be of great benefit to the institution in the long run.”
The four-year liberal arts institution, which achieved university status in 2012, was established in 1867. It enrolled 1,299 students in the fall 2013 semester, said Communications Director Pamela Tolson.

Suber was traveling and unavailable for an interview.

A powerful influence
“One of the things you have to know about HBCUs, we have been underfunded since our inception,” Sellers said. “We’ve always had to do more with less.”

The schools began soon after Reconstruction to educate newly freed slaves, he said. “They started out pretty much as secondary schools, high schools … and then they transformed themselves. One of the architects of the curriculum in those institutions was Booker T. Washington, who talked about industrial education. He thought that African-Americans needed to be able to develop industrial skills, entrepreneurial skills, and then they could be more productive in the economic arena and through that process work their way into a pluralistic society.”

Voorhees was launched in 1897 by Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, a protégé of Washington and a graduate of his Tuskeegee Institute. A New Jersey philanthropist, Ralph Voorhees, and his wife gave her the funds to buy the 450 acres where the school was built.

Sellers grew up in Denmark and attended elementary school through high school at the Voorhees School and Junior College. Voorhees became a four-year college in 1962.

Voorhees was the first HBCU accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and never has lost accreditation, said Lugenia Rochelle, chair of the division of general studies and interim executive vice president for academic affairs. The college also has special accreditations for its business and child-development and elementary-education programs, and it boasts a strong biology program, she said. “Many of our students go on to graduate school to pursue careers as doctors.”

While HBCUs constitute 3 percent of America’s colleges and universities, they award 20 percent of the baccalaureates earned by African-Americans, Sellers said. Sixty percent of African-American lawyers and half of African-American school teachers receive degrees from HBCUs, he said.

Located in a poor, rural area, Voorhees serves students who mostly are economically disadvantaged and often come from single-parent households and failing schools, Sellers said. Most students come from South Carolina, with 96 percent receiving financial aid and 42 percent representing the first generation in their family to attend college.

HBCUs like Voorhees are needed to continue to serve these populations of students, who “can make good citizens and can do things that transform our economy and this world,” Sellers said. “But somebody has to invest in them.”

Episcopal connections
The Episcopal Church has played a significant role at Voorhees. The school has received support from both South Carolina dioceses and had buildings constructed with funds from churches and dioceses as far away as the Diocese of Massachusetts.

Starting in the 1960s, the Episcopal Church began providing an allocation for the three schools – initially about $1 million per year – but more recently switched to awarding block grants, Sellers said. The current triennial budget awarded $2,025,000 for the schools.

(A fourth Episcopal-affiliated institution, Okolona College, was founded in Mississippi as Okolona Industrial School in 1902 “to provide normal and industrial education for African-American young people,” according to the College History Garden blog. It became a college in 1932. “In 1965, the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi decided to withdraw support and the institution soon closed.”)

Voorhees has used its block grant funds for activities related to historic St. Phillip’s Chapel on campus, which operates as an independent Episcopal Church, said Sellers, himself an Episcopalian. Rochelle, who became an Episcopalian after attending St. Augustine’s, serves on the vestry and as a lay minister.

“The Episcopal tradition is well-kept here,” said the church’s vicar and campus chaplain, the Rev. James Yarsiah. On Feb. 11, the chapel hosted an Absalom Jones service, with bishops and other clergy and laity from the dioceses of South Carolina and Upper South Carolina participating.

Besides regular Sunday worship for the congregation, St. Phillip’s offers Tuesday chapel services for the school community. “That is part of our tradition,” Yarsiah said.

Tuesday services are “not strictly Episcopalian,” he said. “I do invite other pastors and ministers in the community to come and share.”

Perhaps 5 to 6 percent of Voorhees students are Episcopalians; about 85 percent are Baptists, he said. “This is the Baptist corridor. … We accept all faiths, all traditions.”

Because the school receives federal funds, it cannot require students to attend chapel, Rochelle said. But it does encourage participation, counting chapel attendance toward a required 72 hours of cultural enrichment, she said. “We do try to impress on them the importance and value of having an abiding faith in God, and we do require all of our students to take a course called Religion and Philosophy.”

The Episcopal Church supports the schools in multiple ways.

It provides the financial support approved by General Convention, “but it goes beyond the financials,” Ifill said. For example, she holds campus symposiums, taking clergy and laity to spend two-and-a-half days on campus interacting with students in classrooms and in one-on-one meetings. Every two years, the church invites the institutions’ students, presidents, faculty and staff to attend a recognition day. The most recent was held in Atlanta in 2013.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori “was present for the entire event, and that says a great deal about the Episcopal Church’s commitment to the colleges,” Ifill said. “Bishop Katharine’s attendance at the event gave the students a sense of how much they are valued, and the work of the colleges, which could be called a ministry because of their involvement beyond the college campus and into their local communities.”

“The students were just blown away by the fact that the leader of the Episcopal Church saw them as important enough to be there, talking heart to heart with them,” she said. “That’s what our students need. They need positive role models in their lives at every turn whose presence and interaction say to them: We care about you. We do care about what happens to you.”

One of the attractions of these schools for students, she noted, is that “the classes are smaller.

“There is an intimacy in the sense that the president of the college, faculty and staff know the students by name. And if a student does not show up to class, they might just find one of them at their dormitory door.”

In some cases, these schools also provide “an education for young people who otherwise could not get an education,” she said.

But the HBCUs provide more than an education for their students.

“The colleges function today in a much broader sense in that they have become pivotal in the communities in which they are located,” Ifill said. “Very much like some congregations, they’re the center of a community and what happens in that community.”

Voorhees, for example, is the largest employer in its community, she said. “Voorhees is instrumental in providing a health-care center. … Also, St. Augustine’s is very much plugged into the community.”

Located in a rural part of a state with high poverty levels, Voorhees is in a county that just lost a hospital. There is a high infant mortality rate but not one OB/GYN in a three-county area, Sellers said. “We have a lot of other issues that we have to address. So we do a lot of community-service work.”

A valued education
Those sort of values factored into Rochelle’s decision to attend St. Augustine’s for her college education. She chose the school because of its proximity to her home, about an hour and 45 minutes’ drive away; an offered scholarship; and its church affiliation, although she wasn’t then an Episcopalian.

“I thought I could get additional nurturing that I would need to mature into the kind of person that I wanted to be,” she said. She liked “the idea of being able to combine spiritual and religious values with educational or academic values.”

“Of course, then the rules were strict, but I was brought up in a very disciplined environment,” she said. “I think that that experience at St. Augustine’s College really did help me to become who I am today. The academic experience was great.”

Rochelle joined the drama club and helped serve as hostess at social functions for faculty at the college president’s house. “I learned a lot about the social graces,” she said. “I think St. Augustine’s expanded my mind … to become more of an inquiring person.”

That inquisitiveness also led her into the Episcopal Church. She grew up worshiping in Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist churches, “but I found I was looking for something else, and I wasn’t sure what it was before I graduated from high school. But when I went to St. Augustine’s, it was then that I determined what it was I was looking for. I decided as a freshman that I would be a free-thinking Christian.”

She formally joined the Episcopal Church after graduating and moving to Greensboro.

Looking back, she said, “I can’t tell you that I was a top student. But I was a good student, and I think I learned well, and it prepared me to go on to other levels of education, and that’s something that I’m trying to pass on to my students.”

– Sharon Sheridan is an ENS correspondent.

En Cuba, el centro promueve la reflexión y el diálogo

Friday, February 28, 2014

El Centro de Reflexión y Diálogo dirige un programa de cuidado de los ancianos y sirve a unas 120 personas, con el suministro de comidas, higiene básica y servicios de lavandería. Foto: Lynette Wilson/ENS

[Episcopal News Service – Cárdenas, Cuba] “Si no somos parte de la solución, somos parte del problema”, dice el cartel a la entrada del Centro de Reflexión y Diálogo aquí. Es un lema que resuena en el ministerio del centro, con programas de compromiso con la comunidad y dirigidos al desarrollo humano y comunitario.

El centro y su metodología “sirve como un buen modelo para las iglesias a través de América Latina”, dijo el obispo Julio César Holguín de República Dominicana, y agregó que a través de sus programas y programas de compromiso con la comunidad, el centro trabaja en la formación, tanto a nivel individual como comunitario. Holguín dirigió una pequeña delegación a Cuba del 18 de febrero  hasta el 25 de febrero, para asistir al  Sínodo General  de la iglesia episcopal de Cuba en la Habana. La visita del  20 de febrero al centro, que fue fundada hace más de 20 años, fue una oportunidad para presenciar y aprender sobre el movimiento ecuménico de Cuba.

Desde un punto de vista cristiano inclusive, el centro tiene como objetivo contribuir al sentido de la existencia humana, promover una concepción holística de la vida y la salud, promover la dignidad humana, y desarrollar una cultura de paz y participación de la comunidad, con énfasis en los pobres, los débiles y las personas marginadas de la sociedad, de acuerdo con su misión.

“Yo estaba muy impresionado por la interacción, la conexión entre la reflexión y la práctica”, dijo el obispo Todd Ousley de la Diócesis de Michigan del este, y agregó que su enfoque a los programas y procesos se basa en la teología.

El propósito del centro es promover el diálogo interreligioso centrado en la integración social a nivel comunitario, con cuatro objetivos para ese fin:

  • fomentar el reconocimiento de la dignidad humana, inspirado en las verdades del Evangelio;
  • animar el procesos de reconciliación, paz y desarrollo de valores humano;
  • estimular la participación de la comunidad y el desarrollo del individual; y
  • promover servicios para las personas necesitadas, enfermas y sufridas.

Sobre este último, cuatro de los empleados del centro – dos mujeres y dos hombres – proporcionan comidas, higiene básica, lavandería y otros servicios de cinco días a la semana a 120 personas de edad avanzada, y cuidados a personas infectadas con el VIH.

“Es un ministerio difícil”, dijo Rita García Morris, subdirectora del centro. “La gente es muy pobre, y viven en una habitación sin un baño”.

Además del programa de cuidado de los ancianos, el centro cuenta con una biblioteca y centro de informática, ofrece talleres de manualidades para niños y ancianos, programas culturales para personas de todas las edades, grupos de debate sobre temas que van desde la teología y derechos humanos a la violencia doméstica, además de servir como un lugar de culto.

“[Es] muy impresionante – mente, cuerpo, espíritu, uno lo está haciendo todo”, dijo Ousley durante un recorrido por el centro.
En el futuro, el centro espera proporcionar un hogar de cuidado de ancianos, donde las personas a quienes sirven puedan vivir y recibir cuidados diarios, y también un refugio para las víctimas de la violencia doméstica, otra población al cual el centro sirve en su ministerio de alcance.

Se trata de “sueños”, dijo García Morris. “Los sueños son para la gente con fe”.

Ubicado en una antigua fábrica, el centro comenzó a funcionar a principios de 1990, pero no fue hasta 2011 que el gobierno cubano le concedió al centro licencia oficial.

Además de sus ministerios de alcance local, el centro acoge grupos nacionales e internacionales de jóvenes y adultos, con capacidad para entre 80 y 90 personas en sus 28 habitaciones. El personal solicita que las reservas se harán tres o cuatro meses con anticipación para coordinar las visas religiosas necesarias.

El centro también ofrece una amplia variedad de publicaciones. Holguín se desempeñó como obispo interino de la iglesia episcopal de Cuba desde el 2003 hasta el 2004, y al mismo tiempo sirvió en la República Dominicana. Además de Ousley, Holgún estuvo acompañado por el Rdo. Emilio Martin, quien es cubano, y sirvió en el consejo de la junta de directores cuando fue sacerdote de la iglesia episcopal de San Francisco de Asís en Cárdenas; Bill Kunkle, director ejecutivo del Grupo de Desarrollo Dominicano; y David Morrow, presidente de la junta directiva de la DDG.

La junta de directiva de DDG, en la que Ousley también se desempeña, se reunió la semana pasada en Santo Domingo, República Dominicana, para su reunión anual del consejo después de la convención diocesana anual.

– Lynette Wilson es una editora/reportera para Episcopal News Service. Ella viajo con la delegación a Cuba.

Presiding Bishop’s Lent Message 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Note: the following is presented in English and Spanish

“So as you enter Lent, consider how you will live in solidarity with those who are hungry, or broken, or ill in one way or another,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in her Lent Message 2014.

The video of the Presiding Bishop’s message is here.

The video is downloadable here.

Lent is a season of reflection that begins on Ash Wednesday (March 5) and concludes on Easter (April 20).

The following is the Presiding Bishop’s Lent Message 2014.

The reality is that the season of Lent, which Christians have practiced for so many centuries, is about the same kind of yearning for greater light in the world, whether you live in the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere.

The word “Lent” means “lengthen” and it’s about the days getting longer.  The early Church began to practice a season of preparation for those who would be baptized at Easter, and before too long other members of the Christian community joined those candidates for baptism as an act of solidarity.

It was a season during which Christians and future Christians learned about the disciplines of the faith – prayer and study and fasting and giving alms, sharing what they have.

But the reality is that, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, the lengthening days were often times of famine and hunger, when people had used up their winter food stores and the spring had not yet produced more food to feed people.  Acting in solidarity with those who go hungry is a piece of what it means to be a Christian.  To be a follower of Jesus is to seek the healing of the whole world.

And Lent is a time when we practice those disciplines as acts of solidarity with the broken and hungry and ill and despised parts of the world.

I would invite you this Lent to think about your Lenten practice as an exercise in solidarity with all that is – with other human beings and with all of creation.  That is most fundamentally what Jesus is about. He is about healing and restoring that broken world.

So as you enter Lent, consider how you will live in solidarity with those who are hungry, or broken, or ill in one way or another.

May you have a blessed Lent this year, and may it yield greater light in the world.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Mensaje de Cuaresma del 2014
de la Obispa Presidente Katharine Jefferts Schori

“Al entrar en la Cuaresma, considere cómo viviría en solidaridad
con los que tienen hambre, o están quebrantados, o enfermos de una u otra manera”.

[28 de febrero de  2014] “Al entrar en la temporada de la Cuaresma, considere cómo viviría en solidaridad con los que tienen hambre, o están quebrantados, o enfermos de una u otra manera”,  dijo la Obispa Presidente de la Iglesia Episcopal Katharine Jefferts Schori en su mensaje de Cuaresma del 2014.

“El video con el mensaje de la Obispa Presidente está aquí.

La Cuaresma es un tiempo de reflexió que comienza el Miércoles de Ceniza (5 de marzo) y concluye el día de la Pascua (20 de abril).

A continuación es el mensaje de Cuaresma del 2014 de la Obispa Presidente.

La realidad es que el tiempo de Cuaresma, que los cristianos han practicado por muchos siglos, es sobre el mismo anhelo de tener una mayor luz en el mundo, ya sea que usted vive en el hemisferio norte o el hemisferio sur.

La palabra “Cuaresma” significa el periodo de 40 días que ahora constituye la estación, y puede reflejar el periodo de 40 años en el desierto, cuando los hebreos buscaban la tierra prometida.  En el hemisferio norteño, la Cuaresma es un tiempo cuando los días cada están alargando, y la tierra está experimentando más luz. La Iglesia antigua comenzó a practicar un tiempo de preparación para aquellos que serían bautizados en la Pascua, y en poco tiempo otros miembros de la comunidad cristiana se unieron a esos candidatos para el bautismo como un acto de solidaridad.

Fue una temporada en la que los cristianos y los futuros cristianos aprendieron sobre las disciplinas de la fe – la oración, el estudio, el ayuno y la ofrenda, compartiendo lo que tienen.

Pero la realidad es que, sobre todo en el hemisferio norte, los días de alargamiento a menudo eran con frecuencia épocas  de hambruna, cuando las personas habían agotado sus reservas de alimentos de invierno y la primavera aún no había producido más alimentos para alimentar a la gente. Actuar en solidaridad con los que pasan hambre es una pieza clave de lo que significa ser cristiano. Ser un seguidor de Jesús es buscar la sanación de todo el mundo.

Y la Cuaresma es el tiempo en que practicamos esas disciplinas tales como actos de solidaridad con los quebrantados, hambrientos y enfermos en los lugares menospreciados del mundo

Les invito en esta Cuaresma a pensar acerca de su práctica cuaresmal como un ejercicio de solidaridad con todo lo que es – con otros seres humanos y con toda la creación. Eso es lo fundamental de lo que es Jesús. Jesús es sobre sanar y restaurar ese mundo quebrantado.

Así que al entrar en la Cuaresma, considere cómo va a vivir en solidaridad con los que tienen hambre, o están quebrantados o enfermos de una u otra manera.

Que este año tenga una Cuaresma bendecida, y que esta  ilumine con mayor fuerza el mundo.

Reverendísima Katharine Jefferts Schori
Obispa Presidente y Primado
La Iglesia Episcopal

Documentary explores San Francisco’s Christian LGBTQ community

Friday, February 28, 2014

[Episcopal New Service] An 11-minute documentary film by San Francisco State University students explores Christian LGBTQ community, featuring Episcopalians.

“Arms Wide Open” explores the lives of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community who actively practice the Christian faith. The film focuses on St. Aidan Episcopal and Glide Memorial churches in San Francisco and explores how despite a history of discrimination, LGBTQ people have found churches that they can call it home. The film provides a glimpse that it is possible for people to be both Christian and LGBTQ. Hopefully the film will raise awareness and acceptance in both the LGBT community and in Christian churches.

The Health Equity Institute – San Francisco State University cinema department collaborate to offer Documentary for Health and Social Justice, a transdisciplinary film production course that has produced more than 50 short documentaries. Students learn how to blend the art of storytelling with social justice issues.

Click here to view the film.

Presiding Bishop lectures at Westminster College

Friday, February 28, 2014

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori delivered the second annual C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture at Westminster College on Thursday, Feb. 27. The full text follows.

Who are We?  Whence, Whither, and Why?
Westminster College
27 Feb 2014

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

As the war raged across Europe and Britain in the 1940s, C.S. Lewis made a number of broadcasts for the BBC, which were later gathered into Mere Christianity.  The impact of those addresses was summarized by a British military leader:  “The war, the whole of life, everything tended to seem pointless.  We needed, many of us, a key to the meaning of the universe.  Lewis provided just that.”[1]

Most of Lewis’ mature writing can be understood as a response to the great “Why?” questions that beset most human beings at some point in their lives.  ‘Why am I here, why do I suffer, why can I rejoice while others are in want, why do we die, why do human beings alternately treat one another with base wretchedness and selfless love?’

The myriad ways of trying to discern our identity, origin, and purpose are the ground of all intellectual and spiritual quests, and those questions fuel every journey of exploration.  Lewis lived and wrote out of a Celtic rootedness in context and a predilection for mythic or narrative meaning-making.  He aided many in exploring the great why questions more deeply, both in the context of war and violence, and in the joy and grief that a brief marriage late in life brought him.  He had a genius in his time for tapping the deep well of human consciousness, in ways that grew out of his own very particular story and flowed into the universal.

Lewis’ creative and imaginative story-telling elucidated ancient myth (stories about our origins) to connect the cosmic Christian story with human experience, in ways both timely and timeless.  He is a profound example of the impact the great questions have on human communities in and through time.  We touch his remarkably perceptive and deep root with gratitude, for his work continues to influence the search of many, even more than 50 years after his death.

I will invite us to look at these great questions of life’s trajectory as questions of identity and origin, purpose and telos (goal), and the meaning that human beings seek in their lives.  I want to evoke a broad sense of the human search for explanation or meaning-making, and I’m going to invite us to look into those questions from a variety of perspectives, not only Lewis’.  We will focus on scientific and religious frameworks of meaning-making, and I will tell you as we begin that I don’t see them as mutually exclusive but rather as potentially expansive and synergistic (more than the sum of the parts).  I see the scientific and religious stories as parallel systems of meaning that are overlapping in their method but not identical in the questions they ask or the outcome they seek.  With many others, I ardently believe the stories we choose to give our hearts and minds to shape and give meaning to the life we live.

The scientific ambit asks questions about origin and direction, but questions of meaning usually aren’t asked in the same way as they would be in a religious context.  Scientific meaning comes from investigating the matter we see around us, defining and describing it, and trying to understand the relationships among the different kinds of matter we experience.  Meaning questions are resolved in ways that have more to do with mechanism than value – questions of how things came to be the way they are, how they interact, and what influences the changes in systems we observe or prompt.  And the questions about purpose are usually understood as projections about the next stage in a process or system.  For example, what do we expect to happen to the weather around here as a result of the carbon we continue to pour into the atmosphere?  Or what is the utility of this shell’s shape – what advantage does it offer the snail?  Those purposive questions don’t seek a terminus.  They are far more about immanent realities than transcendent ones, in spite of the ongoing search for TOEs and GUTs.[2]

The religious[3] perspective asks questions about origins in ways that seek meaning – what does the nature of things have to do with evil? and what does it mean to live a good life – where are we going?  Identity is important in both spheres, but again the questions seek rather different answers.  I spent the first part of my adult life studying squids and octopuses in the NE Pacific.  I was concerned with the identity of particular bodies of water and different squids, and being able to distinguish one kind from another, with the usual ecological hypothesis that different species filled different roles in the larger system.  Identity was about the role of one actor in the system, and its relationship to other actors and parts of the system – who ate whom?  Where might this species of squid live in the vertical and horizontal geography of a large part of the Pacific?  Origin was also of interest – how did a specific family of squids evolve to fill rather different roles in the system, and why were they abundant in the Pacific and absent from the Atlantic?  Scientific meaning is found in understanding the relationships and deriving theories about how those relationships develop.

In spite of the spirit of some fields, like quantum physics and its language for quarks that have flavor like charm or strange,[4] science does not routinely ask questions about the kind of meaning involved in moral or ethical value.  That doesn’t mean scientists think these are unimportant questions, but the scientific method is not designed to answer them.  At least for several centuries in the western world, we’ve kept these spheres of knowledge fairly separate, even though they are both focused on knowing.[5]  We haven’t customarily asked if or why one species is more valuable than another until we get to the science of economics[6] and the business end of commerce.  Yet both scientific and spiritual quests are fundamentally about deeper knowing, and I would assert that we see, know, and understand more if we’re willing to use both systems.  That assumption underlies Socrates’ assertion that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Origin

A story of origins is the technical meaning of “myth.”  This college has a myth about those columns out there – you tell a story of meaning about their origin and purpose, and every student becomes part of that story by passing through them when you matriculate and again in the other direction as you graduate.  Note that the technical use of this term does not imply that a myth is untrue.  I have a friend who is fond of saying, “I know this story is true, whether or not it happened exactly that way.”  The significance of the myth is how it shapes the hearer and the wider community, and how its truth becomes part of the hearers’ story.  A myth is both constitutive and constructive of meaning, for individuals and communities.

Until fairly recently, most of the western world has lived with a broad religious myth, and in recent centuries, a scientific story about origins.  The broad biblical myth actually has two primary stories of creation, which say somewhat different things about the meaning and mode of creation.  The first one speaks of God creating what is over a period of six days and resting on the seventh.  At the beginning there is nothing – a formless void.  A wind sweeps over that chaos, God speaks, and light is separated from the darkness.  That’s day one.  Day two brings the sky, day three the ocean and dry land with its plants.  Day four sees sun and moon and stars.  Day five results in animals, fish, birds and the charge to be fruitful and multiply.  Day six produces human beings in the image of God who are also told to be fruitful and to have dominion over the creatures of the earth.  Then God takes a day off, and pronounces a holiday.[7]

The second creation story tells a very different story that’s focused on the origin of human beings.  What is often heard as the name Adam is actually a generic word for “earth creature” (adham) and the first one is asked to name all the creatures and seek a partner among them.  A suitable partner isn’t found, so God takes part of the earth creature to make another one.  It isn’t until there are two of them that they gain gender.  Then follows the story about the snake and eating the forbidden fruit, and the result that the two now know the difference between good and evil.  They must now leave that lovely garden, and its dream-time, and enter real human life, with its accompanying toil, pain, and death.

The scientific creation story we live with begins in a singularity, before which the tools of science cannot look, although there is some vigorous and creative theorizing going on.[8]  We call this beginning the Big Bang, some 13.8 billion years ago.  The story moves from this almost unimaginably hot and dense beginning to the coalescence of subatomic particles within a few minutes, and after several hundred thousand years the condensation of stable atoms – mostly hydrogen and helium, with a little lithium.  Clouds of these gases condensed into the first galaxies and stars, and as their internal fusion proceeded, eventually those stars died and exploded, and other, denser ones were born that lasted long enough to produce heavier atoms.  Planets eventually formed from the ejecta of some of those dying stars.

This is what we call the cosmological theory – and we have to note that, like the word myth, the technical meaning is different from the popular meaning.  Theory to scientists means the best explanation we have for a phenomenon – it best fits the evidence, and it’s robust enough that proving it false would take a major discovery.  Theories are often in the process of being refined, but they are seldom thrown out.

The cosmological theory continues in our more local part of the universe, as a gas cloud began to consolidate into a solar nebula about 4.5 billion years ago.  Within 10 or 20 million years, the sun and a series of planets had consolidated.  The earth’s broadly layered structure and internal magnetic field developed fairly quickly (~10 million years), and around 4 billion years ago a large celestial impact blasted part of the earth into orbit as the moon.  Volcanism, the result of the earth’s hot core, produced a shifting surface (plate tectonics), and an atmosphere of evolving composition.  Life began to evolve on this planet very early – between 3.5 and 4 billion years ago.  The evolutionary part of the cosmological story is more familiar – and it continues, through at least five eras of mass extinction and periods of rapid species expansion, as a result of changing environmental pressures.  In the geologic era, those pressures have included meteor impacts, mass volcanism, and atmospheric changes, as well as selective pressure due to predation.

Those are very brief summaries of the stories of origin familiar to this culture.  There are other religious ones, but the scientific one stands alone as an externally verifiable response to the physical reality we experience.  Religious stories of origin deal with meaning in ways that move beyond what the scientific one is capable of, particularly when it comes to value beyond the instrumental and utilitarian.  We will return to this issue of transcendence after considering issues of identity and purpose.

Identity

We’ve noted three ways of thinking about origins.  What does this say about identity – who we are and what we see around us?  The cosmological-evolutionary story says we are made of stardust, and so is everything else around us.  Notably, everything we can detect is made from the same primordial plasma soup.  We human beings share a common origin with every other particle of matter or antimatter imaginable, if we’re willing to look far enough into the past.  The evolutionary story on earth gives a similar response – we’re all products of the same stuff, even if some of it may have arrived as part of meteorites, comets, or other stellar projectiles after the initial coalescence of this planet.  If we want a purely biological response, the theory gives the same answer – even if life emerged more than once on this earth, we seem to have the same roots.  Human beings also seem to share common roots in species that evolved on the African continent.  Everybody is an African in origin, and most people in this room are African-Americans.  Every human being living today shares a common ancestry – we’re all related to one another, and we are all related to every other creature on earth, and every part of the universe.

Beyond our identity as Homo sapiens, what does it mean to be a human being?  Science asks these questions, too.[9]  We are self-reflective, we have the ability to think and think about our thinking, and we can make conscious choices, at least when we’re functioning rationally.  It’s apparent that a number of other creatures share some of those characteristics – many other animals learn and change their behavior, and communicate with some form of language:  apes can learn sign language, dolphins, whales, and birds use a variety of sounds and songs.  Elephants, wolves, and apes give evidence of grief.  Several species use tools, some mate for life, many live in family groups of mutual and altruistic support.  Some other species evidently think beyond the local – birds, fish, and mammals migrate across vast distances, directed by neurological and/or genetic memory.  Some have the ability to recognize individuals after a lapse of many years.

What makes human beings unique?  Creativity – thinking new thoughts, putting together ideas and concepts that come from different realms, like the humor of word-play.  Even young children do this:  Why did the duck cross the road?  She didn’t want to be a chicken.

Much of what distinguishes human from other species has to do with the symbolic nature of our language and communication, and the ways we play with those symbols, even to the extent of calling us Homo ludens, the one who laughs or plays.  Our reflective capacity means we can project into the future as well as consider the past; we can reflect on our own reflection and learn from it; we can dream up things that haven’t been thought or seen before; and we can think beyond what we see.  Cogito, ergo sum said Descartes.  We now know that other species think abstractly, though probably not in the same degree that human beings do.  Homo poetica Ernst Becker called us, the one who seeks meaning.  While we may find innate beauty in other species – the mating dances of birds, butterfly wings, or jeweled tree frogs – we do not see evidence that their own creation of beauty (by themselves) is an end in itself.[10]  Multicolored coral reef fishes have evolved their vibrant hues as warning to predators or lures to mates – and they exhibit little variation from individual to individual – their creative output is recursive, as minor variation on a genetic theme.  Human beings pursue artistic ends when their basic needs are met, as a way of finding internal meaning and expressing it outwardly – which is what theologians describe as sacramental – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

The beauty we see around us is a function of our ability to discern it.  This has been framed by some as the “anthropic principle” – the universe is observable only when there is a form of life capable of observing it.   In some forms, that principle imputes a strong force moving toward the creation of reflective, conscious life.  Other forms of the principle note that only a universe which is capable of being observed can produce reflective life forms.  We do live in a system which seems exquisitely finely tuned toward that end.  The meaning we draw from that is not susceptible to a scientific answer.

Back to beauty, or in a larger sense, awe, and our ability to recognize or appreciate it.  Some of that capacity seems to be intrinsic and some is deeply cultural – taught and learned in community.  The experience of awe seems to be uniquely human, drawing us beyond ourselves to consider larger reality, and it is deeply connected to what makes human beings human.

The two creation stories of the biblical tradition understand humanity as the product of creative engagement with the basic stuff of existence.  The first creation story images humanity as a reflection of that creative force which has produced all that is.  That story sets up human beings – in their diversity – as those charged to care for all the creatures of the earth as part of their own household.  The language used is to “have dominion over,” and rather than domination, it suggests the domus or house in which all the creatures live, and human beings as housekeepers and husbanders of the whole, whatever their gender.

The language of the second story, then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.[11]  uses adham, literally an “earth creature.”  The connection remains in English – human comes from the same root as humus.  This is yet another echo of the understanding that we come from the same dust as the stars, even if we think it’s really special dust!  This story of origins goes on to explicate an understanding of evil as individual or communal choice that denies that kind of interconnectedness with the ground of all being.  Original sin is not about sex – it’s about selfishness, and a lack of humility, also from the same root.

This understanding of interconnectedness is present in many other creation stories.  Indigenous spiritual traditions often point to a fundamental identity that lies in relationship, rather than individual existence, and that the deeper meaning of human life is found in relationship with other human beings and with all that is.  It’s important to point out that the impetus and ability to seek meaning through a symbolic story is evidence of what we’ve talked about as distinguishing human beings from other creatures.  This is Homo poetica at work.

Purpose and Meaning

Why are we here?  And how shall we live?  I’m going to insist that the way we understand the story or stories of origin ultimately shapes how we live our lives.  If we are going to be congruent creatures, and we can use different language for this – authentic, true, truly human, spiritually grounded, living moral lives – the framework through which we live has to have enough substance to energize, support, encourage, and inspire us through the vicissitudes and joys of life.  It has to offer sufficient meaning to give a sense of purpose to life.  Otherwise we wander forever in a dark and fairly empty existence, the best of which might be, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

The stories we live by can be given or chosen, and both seem to be of importance.  A given one, whether inherited or enculturated, provides a container and boundaries for creative engagement.  To choose one means giving one’s heart to it, literally to love and believe it, expecting the framework to offer life – meaning in time of despair, urgency in the dog days, and moral choices that offer life to self and others.

Coherence and contrast

We can identify some commonality in all these stories of origin, identity, and purpose, some ground of congruence and coherence, rather than only their distinctiveness.  But it requires reflecting on our own reflection.

We’ve touched on some of this already.  The scientific story begins in a powerful burst of creativity out of which emerges all we can see and experience.  The religious stories also speak of common origins, either from the primordial chaos over which the creative spirit moves, yielding water, sun, earth, and creatures, or the garden from which the plants, animals, and human beings are created.  In each one, everything that is partakes of the same stuff – all that is, is related, connected, in ways ultimately beyond our full comprehension.  The dusty interconnections remind us that the human being’s true character ought to be one of humility, created of and connected to the earth – and the stars.

These stories evoke a unitary origin and a common identity for all parts of the cosmos.  The local is related to the general because of their/our common origin and identity; the immanent partakes of the transcendent.  There’s a lovely Hindu image that points to this – Indra’s net – something like a fishing seine, with a jewel at each node of the web, each jewel reflecting all others, something like a hologram.

These stories, both scientific and religious, encourage a reflective and learning attitude in their use, operating over years and generations.  Science “advances” by making hypotheses, gathering data to test the hypothesis, and then adjusts the hypothesis in an iterative process until a fairly robust theory emerges.  Religious stories are born of reflection on human life and relationship and asking questions of meaning.  They develop theologically through praxis and reflection – doing and reflecting on the outcome of the deeds, and then adjusting the practice toward a more fruitful, life-giving, or virtuous result.  In both systems, questions and doubt are potential sources of growth and learning.

Paradigms shift when a theory or robust story no longer fits experience.  It is a profoundly disorienting experience for the communities involved, but it is a necessary kind of death that permits another more fruitful and heuristically useful story to emerge.  We can see it both in the kind of shift from Newtonian mechanics to relativity theory, and in the expansion of the first covenant biblical narrative to the second, Christian story.

We touched briefly on beauty and awe.  What happens when we consider the transcendent qualities of being in addressing these questions of greater meaning?

Beauty, goodness, and truth are aspects of existence that have long been considered to partake of the cosmic rather than only the local (immanent) context.[12]  We’ve already noted the transcendent concept of unity – that all matter has a common source and origin.  The Egyptians and Greeks, and later Hindu and Abrahamic philosophers and theologians reconceived these as justice and wisdom.  Elements are present in the scientific worldview as well, particularly in the sense that true theories are elegant, simple, and beautiful.

Ethic

The urgent significance of transcendent values arises when we ask the questions about how to live.  We’ve noted already the unitary nature of reality – that we are fundamentally related to all that is, having arisen from a common source and substance.  From that the worldviews formed by religious narratives of origin derive ethical systems that deal with issues of justice – the value assigned to different parts of the cosmos, and what right relationships among those elements looks like.  Wisdom is both the method of inculcating justice in human life and the internal human content of justice – what I know and what I do, and the transformation (truer or more beautiful or good) that results.  These are issues of transcendent significance, particularly in an era when human activity is rapidly depleting the life-giving and nurturing character of the environment in which we live.  For the first time, we have the ability to effect a global extinction event of the same magnitude as the great Cretaceous asteroidal fireball.

The interconnectedness of all evokes a responsibility for right use, for appropriate humility in caring for all members of the household.  What does a productive garden look like?  How do we steward the whole, or the small part we occupy?  The scientific story will continue to remind us that we aren’t capable of acting in isolation – and that the stochastic nature of things means the results of our actions will never be wholly predictable.  It’s an urge to caution, modesty, and consideration.  Even at a far more basic level, our behavior and decisions have to consider the implications of our action because of that level of unpredictability.  The garbage we throw out today will come back to us tomorrow – in some way – for there is nowhere we can throw it that is truly ‘away.’

We need to tell the stories of creation over and over, for it is the only way we will move from an anthropocentric view of the universe to a networked and systemic vision that understands our part in the whole.  Then we may look for meaning in life that serves the whole, rather than one microscopic mote.  For none of us truly matters unless all of creation does.

This is what C.S. Lewis understood so deeply.  Born in the Irish context of ancient domination by a power that saw his land as resource to be exploited, he looked toward a story of transformative justice, even if it required the giving of one’s life.  He looked deep into his community’s past, Celtic and Christian, tribal and communal, in search of an ethic that would transcend the story of exploitation and empire.  He kept telling the story in new contexts, in reflective and creative ways that have helped generations to see the fundamental truth and beauty and goodness that give ultimate meaning to life – each life and all of life.  We are born of stardust, and so are our neighbors – all our neighbors on this planet and beyond.  We share the dignity of the heavens, and we are bound for wholeness and oneness with all that is.  Our meaning is to be found in the life we live and the liveliness we leave around us and behind us.  That liveliness is fostered by the willingness to let go of it, that it may return in even greater strength.

The great sages and mystics have all understood the fundamental unity and interdependence of existence:  Dame Julian, Hildegard, Meister Eckart and Professor Einstein, Werner Heisenberg and Teilhard de Chardin, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thomas Berry and Nelson Mandela.  The wisdom teachers of the ages counsel justice as the way to augment and increase the meaning and depth of life for all.  Justice is the fruit of self-awareness, humility, and the valuing of all – what the baptismal prayer in the Episcopal tradition describes as “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love [you], and the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works.”[13]

What story or stories do you give your heart to?

I have seen our Christ walking on the shore of the Arabian Sea in the attire of a Hindu sannyasin. – Charles Freer Andrews

[1] Sayer, George Jack, A Life of C S Lewis, 2nd ed.  Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1997, p 281.

[2] TOE = Theory of Everything.  GUT = Grand Unified Theory.

[3] I use “religious” here in a very broad context, akin to the way “spiritual” is often used in common parlance, rather than its more academic sense as a set of practices and beliefs that bind a community together.

[4] Charm and strange are flavors of quarks, others of which are top, down, bottom, up.

[5] Science literally means “knowing,” and in the Middle Ages theology was known as the “queen of the sciences,” a reminder that the Enlightenment division is recent and perhaps not so completely enlightened!

[6] And note that economics is as much about worldly relationships as ecological studies – both are about relationships within the oikos or household.

[7] The shape of that creative week dignifies and sacralizes both work and rest.

[8] In some cases that theorizing does not require a singularity.

[9] http://humanorigins.si.edu/

[10] Although theologically it is certainly possible to say that this is how each one gives glory to God, and that is what we perceive is beauty.

[11] Genesis 2:7

[12] Explicit philosophizing about these concepts dates from at least the Pharaonic era.

[13] Book of Common Prayer p 308

Presiding Bishop preaches at Westminster College

Friday, February 28, 2014

George Herbert
Westminster College, Fulton, MO
St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury
27 February 2014

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

We’re celebrating the feast of George Herbert today.  He was a poet and priest of the Church of England, born in 1593 to a wealthy and politically well-connected family.  He went to Cambridge at 16, earned a bachelor’s degree, and was appointed a fellow of Trinity College at the age of 21.  In 1620 Herbert was appointed the university’s Public Orator, a nod to his skill in Greek and Latin as well as English.  Has Westminster ever had a Public Orator?

Herbert’s connections led him to a robustly public life.  He was elected to Parliament at the age of 31, and with his experience as Public Orator he aspired to the position of secretary of state.  But his friends in high places, including King James I, died soon after.  Political life – at least then – depended on connections, and it was apparent to Herbert that the new king would not look on him as favorably as had the last.  He left Parliament and his post of public orator and sought ordination as a priest.

He was made a deacon in 1626 and went to live at a semi-monastic community, Little Gidding, with his friend and fellow Member of Parliament Nicholas Ferrar.  He married in 1629 and the new king gave him a job even before he was priested, to serve congregations near Salisbury.  They have names as wonderful as this church’s:  St. Peter’s Fugglestone and St. Andrew’s Bemerton.  Lest this seem an unalloyed honor, the king had essentially exiled him from the capital, and put him out to pasture in these small, poor, rural communities.[1]

Herbert dug in with all the resources he had – mind, money, time, hands, and friends.  He served the people there with utter faithfulness, and found the time and quiet for reflection and writing.  He made his wife Jane the almoner of the parish – giving her charge of distributing funds to the poor.  He helped rebuild the church buildings with his own funds, and badgered his connections for more.  One evening he came late for worship at Salisbury Cathedral because he’d stopped to help a farmer get his fallen horse upright and cart reloaded.[2]

His best known writings are a collection of poetry[3] and a commentary on the life of a rural priest, The Country Parson.  He’s remarkably clear about the innate value of all that is, from plows to crops to daily labor, insisting that “nothing is little in God’s service.”  He is earnest and pointed about those who want to lord it over others, as Peter’s letter puts it.  Herbert includes this advice to other country parsons about some parishioners:  “If any gentry and nobility of the parish sometimes make it a piece of state not to come at the beginning of the service with their poor neighbors, but at mid-prayers, both to their own loss and of theirs also who gaze upon them when they come in, … he (the parson) causes them to be presented, or if the churchwardens be affrighted with their greatness.”… he does it himself, “protesting to them that it’s not by ill will, but the obligation of his calling to obey God rather than men.”[4]  After just three years in those country parishes, a month before he turned 40, Herbert died of tuberculosis.  They called it consumption then.

We know George Herbert for his way with words and the way he lived the Word.  The poetry of his life has inspired many – in prayer and hymnody and example.  His life illuminates the gospel we heard today – blessed are the poor, meek, and merciful, for they will meet God and find themselves in a heavenly communion/community.  When the world rebuffed his first-chosen path, he found another way to lead and serve the people around him.

The world around us yearns for souls who will let go of the lures of preferment, powerful station, and pride of place in order to find ways of transformation.  The principalities and powers are continually at work on those lures, as C.S. Lewis’ Wormwood would recognize, burnishing the chains and gilding the bars of confinement.  News reports yesterday led with a story about status on Delta Airlines frequent flier program – a new level of thralldom to which some can aspire – based on the price paid for tickets.  Arizona is wrestling with a law that is supposedly about religious freedom, but smells more like a way to sanctify small-mindedness.  Many of our states and cities continue to resist living wage laws and basic support for all parts of the population, asserting that the economic benefit to those who create jobs trumps the basic and inalienable rights of all to life abundant, liberty from indentured servitude, and a search for the happiness of family life and sabbath rest.  Consumption is still killing us.

The basic issues Herbert faced in his rural parishes are still with us – disease, stoop labor, inadequate schooling, insecure housing, lack of employment, and social and economic division.  The same hungers for life and more of it drove crowds to hear Jesus tell them that there is hope for the poor, the grieving, and those who seek justice.  That hope lies on the road he followed, for God hears the cries of hungry wanderers in the wilderness, and God knows the lament of unjust incarceration and capital punishment, in God’s own self.

That hope Jesus offers lies in building intentional community, like the band who followed him around Galilee, like the group at Little Gidding, or like the multiplying possibilities of new monasticism.[5]  Hope lies in living and learning from those who don’t sit on the top of the pile.  The seminary that trains clergy for churches in the Philippines sends its students to live with families in the ghetto for three months.[6]  Young Adult Service corps members, like Peace Corps volunteers, offer themselves for service in poor and humble settings, and find themselves transformed beyond any mortal expectation.  Westminster’s connections with Rwanda are ways of becoming “poor in spirit.”[7]

Yet the spiritual attitudes that Herbert exemplified are not limited to poor and humble settings.  This version of the sermon on the mount says “blessed are the poor in spirit,” and they are even more urgently needed in the halls of power, where large-scale decisions are made that affect the lives of us all, especially the poor.  We need leaders who can see poetry in the lives of immigrants, and be public orators on their behalf.  The world desperately needs gifted leaders with a heart for the rural poor and the urban poor and the increasingly poverty-stricken landscapes we share.  For the growing poverty of this created garden is already dooming more and more human beings to shortened and more hazardous lives.  The structural systems that grind the poor will only change through the courage and boldness of public orators with poor hearts, and pure ones.

This building was set up as a memorial to a man who motivated the world to address great evil, and Winston Churchill began to raise his voice while in his own political exile in the 1930s.  He is remembered in a building first dedicated to the mission of God, who came among us as one poor in spirit, so that we might be transformed for that mission of restoring and healing the world.  God will use any who are willing to be instruments of peace, knowing that even the most humble task is essential.  Will you become poor in spirit?

[1] Brightest and Best p 52

[2] Stars in a Dark World  p 122

[3] The English poems are collected in The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations

[4] A Priest to the Temple: The Country Parson His Character and Rule of Holy Life

[5] Episcopal Service Corps is a good example

[6] St. Andrew’s Seminary, Manila, serves the Philippine Episcopal Church and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church, with whom The Episcopal Church is in full communion)

[7] the Bright Lights campaign to ensure that primary students in Rwanda can study at night; health campaigns to build clinics; projects for peace that are starting microfinance programs, agriculture, educational, and employment initiatives

In Cuba, center promotes reflection and dialogue

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Center for Reflection and Dialogue operates an elder-care program serving some 120 people, providing meals, basic hygiene and laundry services. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

[Episcopal News Service – Cárdenas, Cuba] “If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem,” reads the sign at the entrance of the Center for Reflection and Dialogue here. It’s a slogan that resonates in the center’s ministry, outreach programs and approach to human and community development.

The center and its methodology “serve as a good model for churches across Latin American,” said Dominican Republic Bishop Julio César Holguín, adding that through its programs and outreach, the center works on formation at both the individual and the community level.

Holguín led a small delegation to Cuba Feb. 18-25, to attend the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s annual General Synod in Havana. The Feb. 20 visit to the center, which was founded more than 20 years ago, was an opportunity to witness and learn about Cuba’s ecumenical movement.

From an inclusive Christian worldview, the center seeks to contribute to the sense of human existence; promote a holistic conception of life and health; promote human dignity; and to develop a culture of peace and community participation with emphasis on the poor, the weak and the marginalized people in society, according to its mission.

“I was most impressed by the interplay, the connection between their reflection and practice,” said Diocese of Eastern Michigan Bishop Todd Ousley, adding that their approach to programs and processes are grounded in theologically.

The purpose of the center is to promote  interreligious dialogue focused on social integration at the community level, with four goals toward that end:

  • to encourage the recognition of human dignity inspired by the Gospel;
  • to encourage the process of reconciliation, peace and the development of human values;
  • to stimulate community participation and development of the individual; and
  • to promote services for the poor and the sick.

Regarding the latter, four of the center’s employees – two women and two men – provide meals, basic hygiene, laundry and other services five days a week to 120 elderly, and HIV-positive citizens.

“It’s a hard ministry,” said Rita García Morris, the center’s deputy director. “The people are very poor, living in just a room without a toilet.”

In addition to the elder-care program, the center has a library and computer center, offers craft workshops for children and senior citizens, hosts cultural programs for people of all ages, panel discussions on topics ranging from theology and human rights to domestic violence, as well as serving as a place of worship.

“[It’s] very impressive – mind, body, spirit, you’re doing it all,” said Ousley during a tour of the center.

In the future, the center hopes to provide an elder-care home, where the people it serves can live and receive daily care, and also a shelter from victims of domestic violence, another population the center serves in its outreach ministry.

These are “dreams,” said Garcia Morris. “Dreams are for people with faith.”

Housed in a former factory, the center began operating in the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the Cuban government granted the center its official license.

In addition to its local outreach ministries, the center hosts national and international youth and adult groups, accommodating between 80 and 90 people in its 28 guestrooms. The staff requests that reservations be made three to four months in advance to coordinate the necessary religious visas. The center also offers a wide variety of publications.

Holguín served as the interim bishop of the Episcopal Church of Cuba from 2003-4, while also serving the Dominican Republic. In addition to Ousley, he was accompanied by the Rev. Emilio Martin, who is Cuban, and served on the center’s board of directors when he was the priest at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Cárdenas; Bill Kunkle, executive director of the Dominican Development Group; and David Morrow, president of the DDG’s board of directors.

The DDG’s board of directors, on which Ousley also serves, met the previous week in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, for its annual board meeting following the annual diocesan convention.

– Lynette Wilson is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service. She traveled with the delegation to Cuba. 

Episcopal Church of Cuba adopts three-year strategic plan

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Episcopal Church of Cuba held its annual General Synod in Havana Feb. 21-23. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Havana, Cuba] The Episcopal Church of Cuba has a clear vision moving into its next triennium: to be a church united in diversity, celebration, evangelism, teaching, serving and sharing the love of God.

Arriving at that vision has been “a very rich experience,” yet at times “somewhat difficult,” said Bishop Griselda Delgado de Carpio, during a post-General Synod interview with Episcopal News Service on Feb. 23.

For its 2014-16 strategic plan, the church finds inspiration from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, specifically Chapter 4, Verses 15-16: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

At the close of the last three years, Delgado’s first full triennium serving as bishop, a clearer vision for the church began to develop, with evangelism taking center stage in the church’s mission, she said.

“From there we could visualize a concrete plan that we have to work from,” she added.

The three-year plan’s objectives include:

  • strengthening the continued growth of the pastoral ministry of laity and clergy;
  • increasing financial sustainability through stewardship, project management and the exploration of other country sources;
  • providing through its own leadership capacity the space for biblical and theological reflection at the local and diocesan level focused on values, ethics, history of the church, and spirituality and family;
  • reinforcing the visibility of the work of the church, both inside and outside;
  • strengthening management capacity and organization, including planning, control, evaluation and systematization;
  • promoting pastoral programs and accompaniment for marginalized people and groups, those who are vulnerable, the aged, those who suffer from addictions or are HIV positive; and
  • achieving better communication across the church.

“Thanks to God we are involving young people in the church,” she said. “We believe that they are not only the future, but the present.”

Griselda Delgado del Carpio poses with children following the General Synod’s closing Eucharist. The church in Cuba’s three-year plan prioritizes the formation of children. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

It’s for that reason, she added, that the plan focuses on the formation of young people, children and adolescents and also those on the path toward priesthood who will inherit big responsibilities.

“I continue to be amazed at the tenacity and missional heart of the Episcopal Church in Cuba,” said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in an e-mail to ENS.

“They are a great example to Episcopal Church congregations of what Asset Based Community Development looks like — valuing all the gifts God has provided in this place, listening to the needs of the wider community, and collaborating for mission and ministry.  Bishop Griselda is leading transformative ministry in Cuba — I urge you to go and see if you are able, develop a diocesan or parish partnership, and learn more.”

The Episcopal Church of Cuba’s annual General Synod, held Feb. 21-23 at Trinity Cathedral in Havana, was attended by Episcopalians and Anglicans from the United States and Canada, including Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

During his introduction to convention, Hiltz described Delgado as “a great ambassador for Cuba, putting the church in Cuba on the map of the Anglican Communion in very important ways.”

Delgado was installed in November 2010, replacing Bishop Miguel Tamayo of the Anglican Church of Uruguay who served the church as an interim bishop for six years, splitting his time between Montevideo and Havana.

Dominican Republic Bishop Julio César Holguín preached during the closing Eucharist of the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s General Assembly. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Following Delgado’s election, Dominican Republic Bishop Julio César Holguín became her mentor for three years, a relationship that continues informally today. Holguín led a small delegation, including members of companion dioceses, to Cuba Feb. 18-25, to attend General Synod.

The Diocese of the Dominican Republic has some 15 U.S.-based companion diocese relationships, and itself serves as a companion to the church in Cuba, though in a more informal, “sentimental” way as an expression of solidarity, said Holguín.

But the relationship also has taken on a practical nature, for example in 2009 the Episcopal Church’s General Convention initiated $23 million in budget cuts necessitated by declining revenue, which meant a decrease in grants to Province IX dioceses and the church’s covenant partners, including Cuba.

Following that action, the clergy in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic committed to giving 1 percent of their salaries, which amounts to about $3,000 total, to be shared by the clergy in Cuba, said Holguín, adding that the monthly salary for clergy might be $7 or $8.

“We were in a better position than anyone to support the church in Cuba,” he said.

The Episcopal Church’s triennial budget allocates $106,000 to the church in Cuba.

Dominican Republic Bishop Julio César Holguín and Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, talk during lunchtime at the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s General Synod. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Like the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada has had a longstanding relationship with the Episcopal Church of Cuba, said Hiltz.

The Episcopal Church of Cuba is an autonomous diocese of the Anglican Communion under the authority of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba. The council is chaired by Hiltz and includes Jefferts Schori and Archbishop of the West Indies John Holder. The council has overseen the church in Cuba since it separated from the U.S.-based Episcopal Church in 1967.

In the six- and-a half years that Hiltz has served on the council, he said, despite the continued hardship, he’s sees a lot of hope in the church, as well as a push toward leadership development. Having a full-time bishop has helped, he added.

“The church here in Cuba is not an institution, but a movement, a gospel movement,” said Hiltz.

The Sunday prior to the convention, Feb. 16, Hiltz and other visitors from the Anglican Church of Canada visited a house church in Luyano, a poor section of Havana, where the packed congregation celebrated Valentine’s Day by exchanging practical gifts of soap and toothpaste, two necessities that can be difficult to come by in Cuba.

Following the Eucharist, the congregation led the group to the building site of their church, which after being destroyed 30 years earlier by a hurricane is being readied for an Easter Sunday consecration.

Rather than just build a place of worship, however, Hiltz said, the temple includes medical and elder-care clinics and a community center.

“You get the sense that the church is really in the community, there for the sake of the community,” said Hiltz. “Seeing it on the ground enriches my understanding and helps the way we uphold them in prayer.”

In offering prayer, context makes a difference, he added.

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio and Diocese of Niagara Bishop Michael Bird talk following a business session. Cuba and Niagara recently renewed their companion diocese relationship. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

In the Anglican Church of Canada’s Diocese of Niagara, the 91 parishes pray weekly for the churches in Cuba, said Bishop Michael Bird, when introduced to the synod.

The Canadian church provides support for the Cuban church through program support, clergy and seminary faculty stipends and through diocesan companion relationships.

The Diocese of Niagara, for example, recently renewed its decade-long companion diocese relationship with the church in Cuba for another five years.

“Cuba is kind of a special diocese in the Anglican Communion, and our partnership is a way of expressing solidarity and friendship; a grassroots expression of that,” said the Rev. Bill Mous, the diocese’s director of justice, community and global ministries.

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

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

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Dominican Republic Bishop Julio César Holguín and Diocese of Eastern Michigan Bishop Todd Ousley in procession for the closing Eucharist. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

What struck Diocese of Eastern Michigan Bishop Todd Ousley most was the uniquely Cuban way of being Anglican.

“What was most striking to me was the sense of how they strategically contextualize the church by very carefully honoring their Cuban culture and melding that with Anglicanism,” he said, adding that it’s clear from the strategic plan that not only the leadership of the bishop is important, but also that of the clergy and the laity.

He also was impressed, he said, with the church’s focus on justice issues and helping the “least of these

Bishop Miguel Tamayo Zaldívar, former interim bishop of Cuba, and Bishop Ulises Aguero, bishop emeritus of Cuba, during the procession of the closing Eucharist. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The Cuban church’s experience with socialism and its understanding that everyone must work together in solidarity serves as a good model for the church in North and Latin America, said Ousley.

Overlapping with the start of the church’s General Synod, a diverse Anglican-Episcopal mission group – including people from the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador – visited St. Francisco de Assisi Church in Cárdenas, in Matanzas Province, about a two hours’ drive east of Havana. The group was led by the Rev. Canon Juan Andrés Quevedo, rector of the Church of the Redeemer in Astoria, Queens, and an archdeacon in the Diocese of Long Island.

It was the first time in 13 years that Quevedo, who was born in the city of Matanzas and who attended the local evangelical seminary before studying at Trinity College in Toronto, Canada, had been back in Cuba.

In the grass alongside St. Francisco de Assisi cinderblocks were neatly arranged in rows, almost like headstones in a cemetery, only they were there to keep the church’s newly sanded and stained pews from touching the grass.

The mission group needed a service project to be completed within a week so, along with the Rev. Aurelio de la Paz Cot, they decided it would be best to refinish the pews, and to passersby the neatly arranged cinderblocks and the drying pews looked curious.

“For us it was an evangelism event,” said de la Paz, who was a seminary mate of Quevedo’s in Matanza, adding that the people nearby, curious about the work and the workers, would stop by and ask, “Who are these people?”

And more than that, for de la Paz it was a “marvelous experience” and it meant a lot for him and his congregation that people would use their vacation time and their personal resources to come to Cuba, to learn about its culture and its people and share something of themselves, with people who are otherwise somewhat isolated.

For those who traveled to the island, the experience was at the same time one of both joy and pain, said Quevedo, with many comparing their own country’s experience with totalitarian regimes and high levels of poverty.

“They have seen a side of poverty not familiar to them,” he said, during a visit to an organic farm near Cádenas run by the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue.

“Our poor are educated and that makes them self-aware of how to live better, where in their countries the poor have been beaten into despair.”

That self-awareness also can be seen in the way the church operates in Cuba.

“It’s a very cultural church, rooted in the history of Cuba,” said Carlos Austin, a second-year seminarian from the Episcopal Church of Panama.

The church has strong leadership, he said, but one of its most defining characteristics is its youth presence.

“Young people really get involved,” said Austin. “It’s not like in our countries; maybe they aren’t as organized but they have the manpower.”

As a seminarian at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Austin spends his weekends serving Cuatro Esquinas, a church in Los Arabos, a community some 65 miles away.

“They are an example of what a church should do community-wise,” said Austin, adding that the church serves as a community center and dispenses medicines and purified water. “The priest and the leadership are seen as helpers; where I come from we [the church] have to learn more about the community.

“Many times it looks like we are focused on inward evangelism; here they don’t focus on evangelism, they focus on mission and the evangelism will follow.”

It was the Rt. Rev. Julio Murray, bishop of Panama, who decided Austin would attend seminary in Cuba, rather than in Brazil, Austin’s other alternative. He’s one of 17 resident seminarians; the school has 500 distance-learning students across Cuba.

The bishop wanted Austin to study theology in the Latin-American context, and for Austin, at least in the beginning, it was difficult because everyday life in Cuba requires fortitude.

Public transportation in Cuba is limited and it can take hours to cover short distances; basic goods like toilet paper, soap and toothpaste can be difficult to come by, regardless of whether you have the money or not to buy them; salaries are low, with doctors earning less than $20 a month.

If not for the kindness of church members, Austin said, he would have left.

“That’s what’s made the difference for me here, the church and the people took me in,” he said.

– Lynette Wilson is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service. She traveled to Cuba Feb. 18-25 with a delegation led by Dominican Republic Bishop Julio César Holguín. 

Daniel Sarfo becomes primate of West Africa

Friday, February 28, 2014

Bishop Daniel Sarfo. Photo: Anglican Journal

[Anglican Communion News Service] The surviving metropolitan archbishop of the Church of the Province of West Africa has been elevated to become its 10th primate.

According to a statement, Daniel Sarfo, archbishop of the internal province of Ghana, becomes the province’s new leader following the death of Archbishop S. Tilewa Johnson.

The statement read: “Following the demise of the 9th primate of the Church of the Province of West Africa (CPWA), the late Most Rev. Dr. S. Tilewa Johnson and by the provisions of our Constitution, the Most Rev. Dr. Daniel Yinkah Sarfo, the archbishop of the internal province of Ghana, automatically becomes the 10th primate and metropolitan archbishop of the CPWA.”

Johnson, 59, was primate, metropolitan archbishop of the internal province of West Africa and bishop of Gambia. A popular figure both home and abroad, he died in Fajara on Jan. 21 while playing tennis – one of his favorite pastimes.

His unexpected death prompted tributes from around the world and from across Christian denominations and other religions. His funeral, which took place last Friday at the Independence Stadium in Bakau, Gambia, was attended by, among others, a high-level government delegation, and senior members of the Anglican Communion – including its Secretary General Canon Kenneth Kearon.

Rapidísimas

Friday, February 28, 2014

En Venezuela siguen las manifestaciones, los arrestos y la violencia. Todos los días hay nuevos acontecimientos. Ya suman 16 los muertos y los estudiantes no ceden en su empeño de tener un nuevo gobierno que sea democrático y dedicado al bienestar del pueblo. Los estudiantes han interrumpido el tránsito por la autopista de Caracas, la principal vía de acceso urbano dentro de la capital. A una invitación de Nicolás Maduro para dialogar con Estados Unidos, el presidente Barack Obama dijo que ese diálogo debe realizarse con los líderes de Venezuela. Roberto Lückert, arzobispo de Coro, dijo en una entrevista que la crisis política que vive el país es “resultado de la insensatez política del gobierno”.

Ante la situación venezolana, el Presbiterio Central de la Iglesia Presbiteriana reunido a mediados de febrero dio a conocer una carta pastoral dirigida al pueblo venezolano “como un modesto aporte por la paz y el entendimiento entre los que vivimos en esta tierra de gracia”. Después de hacer un somero análisis de la situación actual, los presbiterianos dicen en su carta colectiva: “La violencia como recurso para dirimir diferencias, terminará escapando de las manos que la propician y acabará engullendo a quienes la originaron”.

Unión Juárez, fundado en 1870, es un pintoresco pequeño lugar montañoso en el estado mexicano de Chiapas. Es centro turístico y a la vez un lugar de gente intransigente. Cuenta la prensa que los dirigentes del pueblo suprimieron el suministro de agua y electricidad a unas 25 familias evangélicas “por negarse a cooperar con 500 pesos por familia” para la celebración de fiestas católicas tradicionales. ¡Hace falta un buen mediador!

Dos bombas caseras de mediano poder explosivo explotaron el 24 de febrero cerca de la entrada de la Catedral Anglicana de Zanzíbar. Ninguna persona resultó herida aunque sí hubo algunos daños materiales. Las bombas también afectaron el memorial donde existió el Mercado de Esclavos de Mkunazini donde ahora hay un monumento de meditación y oración. La catedral sigue con sus oficios regulares pese al peligro que existe en el lugar. En la isla hay un fuerte sentimiento de independencia de Tanzanía, 98 por ciento de la población es musulmana. La embajada de Estados Unidos ha sugerido a las mujeres “vestir decorosamente”.

Como prueba de que el Vaticano ha tomado en serio el castigo a los culpables de abusos sexuales en la Iglesia Católica Romana, el papa Francisco ha destituido de su dignidad eclesiástica al obispo de Iquique, Chile, Marco Antonio Órdenes Fernández, quien afronta una investigación eclesiástica por abusos sexuales. En su lugar el papa ha nombrado a Guillermo Vera Soto, hasta ahora obispo de Calama.

Alice Herz-Sommer, sobreviviente del Holocausto, ha fallecido a la edad de 110 años en Londres. Pianista destacada y miembro de una familia de intelectuales, en 1943 fue trasladada a un campo de concentración en la ciudad checa de Terezin, donde a los reos se les permitía dar conciertos. Según cálculos oficiales de los 140,000 judíos llevados allí 33,430 murieron víctimas del hambre y el maltrato. Aunque nunca supo donde murió su madre al ser arrestada o su esposo que murió en el campo de concentración de Dachau, los que la conocieron admiran su fortaleza ante la miseria, el dolor y la vejación.

La arquidiócesis católica romana de Los Ángeles, la más grande de Estados Unidos, se encuentra en un proceso judicial acusada de ocultar los nombres de las víctimas de abuso sexual. Según consta en documentos oficiales el anterior arzobispo, Roger Mahony, no reveló los nombres de las víctimas para protegerlos. Se cree que desde 2006 la diócesis pagó más de 700 millones de dólares por acuerdos extra-judiciales a cientos de víctimas que presentaron demandas.

El arzobispo Terence Prendergast de Ottawa, Canadá, ha decretado que en los funerales católicos en su jurisdicción quedan prohibidos sermones o pláticas alabando las bondades del difunto. “En su lugar los fieles deben emplear ese tiempo en orar por el difunto y su familia”, dijo el prelado. Debido a las protestas de los miembros de la iglesia Prendergast aceptó tres condiciones: esas palabras se pronunciarán al principio de la liturgia, no podrán tener más de tres minutos de duración y no deberán decirse desde el mismo lugar donde se leen las Escrituras.

La policía de La Paz, Bolivia, ha informado que ha capturado a José Luis Bertón, pastor evangélico de una iglesia local llamada “Eklesia de La Paz” y presunto líder de una banda de secuestradores. Junto con Bertón fueron arrestados su concubina y dos familiares de ésta. En el mes pasado hubo 17 secuestros atribuido a la pandilla de Bertón. El rescate oscilaba entre 100 mil y 250 mil dólares. La policía dijo que a la banda se les decomisó un fusil, una pistola, una motocicleta y un taxi.

VERDAD. Ser honrado significa decidir no mentir, robar, estafar ni engañar de ninguna forma.

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