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DFMS enters lease agreement for Episcopal Church Center space

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

[The Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] An agreement has been completed between the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) and the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Lesotho to the United Nations to lease a portion of a floor at the Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Avenue in New York City, NY.

“I am very pleased by this development,” explained Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer. “For one thing, it is good stewardship of the Church’s assets, maximizing the funding available for mission.  For another, we of the DFMS are pleased to be working cooperatively in this way with Government of Lesotho.  As has been true with the government of Haiti, we hope being neighbors at 815 Second Avenue will lead to increased opportunities for partnerships.”

The Consulate will lease 6,379 rentable square feet on the eighth floor of the Church Center.  This area is currently unoccupied.

The lease agreement is for three years.  Anticipated revenue is $274,000 in the first year, which, N. Kurt Barnes, Chief Financial Officer, said, “provides an additional $274,000 in revenue beyond budget projections.”

Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Lesotho to the United Nations joins the Consulat General de la Republique d’Haiti, the Ad Council and the Lyceum Kennedy School as tenants in the New York City building.

Parish Property Management, Inc. was the leasing agent for the transaction.

 

‘To help people, to further the kingdom’

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Clifford Williams, working in the Friendship Center’s studio, paints head of a tiger. The Friendship Center is a ministry of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Atlanta, where more than half the congregation includes persons living with mental illness.Photo: Ann Fowler/Holy Comforter

[Episcopal News Service] When Matthew Collins was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about seven years ago, he lost his job, his marriage and his self-understanding in rapid succession.

“Mental illness turned my own mind into something I no longer recognized,” Collins told ENS recently. During two sleepless weeks he cycled through psychosis, paranoia, grandiose illusions, beliefs that people were trying to kill him. Eventually he was hospitalized. Afterwards, there was the stigma of being labeled a person with mental illness.

“It was an extremely frightening experience, the most frightening experience I’d ever endured,” he recalled. “I lost the job I was working while I was hospitalized. I was married at the time. My wife then was frightened by the experience in the same way I was frightened, but she did not want to engage it. So, she left.

“I had been very successful in my undergraduate degree, working full-time and going to school full-time and had been supporting myself since I turned 18,” Collins said. “I was also in the U.S. Air Force reserves and I had balanced it all very well and very successfully, so it was a very painful experience to move from being an independent, successful person to someone I no longer recognized.”

When he told family members about his diagnosis, their reaction was, unfortunately, typical of many, including clergy and communities of faith: “they just kind of acted like it wasn’t there,” he recalled.

Mental illness in varying degrees affects some 25 percent of the U.S. population and struggling families often turn first for support and aid to clergy and faith communities, who typically are ill-equipped to offer meaningful assistance.

“I think there is an imperative that the Body of Christ actually be the Body of Christ,” said Collins, executive director of the Friendship Center, a ministry of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Atlanta, where more than half the congregation includes persons living with mental illness.

“My hope for the Body of Christ at large and the Episcopal Church in the future is that we would truly mirror more and more what neighborhood churches look like,” Collins said. “In particular, there are people living with mental illness and/or families of people living with mental illness in every congregation across our nation but in most churches, it’s just unspoken and unaddressed.”

Holy Comforter: ‘all of us together’

The Rev. Mike Tanner, Holy Comforter’s vicar, believes that acknowledging mental illness is often “too challenging to our self image.”

“I know people who have trouble coming to Holy Comforter and I think it’s because the presence of mental illness in other people creates fear in them about themselves,” Tanner told ENS. “We often have an idea of what church ought to be like and it’s pretty nice and clean and well-ordered and doesn’t look like the world around us. But,” he added, “Holy Comforter looks like the world around us.”

The Rev. Mike Tanner, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church’s vicar, says the community is “the richest spiritual and theological environment I’ve ever been in.” Photo: Daniel Tanner/Holy Comforter

Founded in 1893, Holy Comforter was nearly shuttered in the mid-1980s “because of white flight” out of the city, he said. Those left behind were the poor and former residents of mental institutions released under federally mandated deinstitutionalization. Then, a new vicar walked the neighborhood, inviting everyone to church “and the people who came were living in group homes and had recently been released from mental institutions,” Tanner said.

Now, Holy Comforter’s average Sunday attendance is about 80, and about 60 percent of the congregation includes “people who live with a diagnosable mental illness” such as schizophrenia, psychotic disorder, anxiety disorder and depression, and who are severely and persistently affected by mental illness to the extent that they do not have much of a work life at all because of their illness,” Tanner said.

“The bulk are people in personal-care homes, whose only income is their SSI (supplemental security income) check and who get Medicaid for their medical services and who basically live in significant poverty, along with mental illness or some other disability.”

And yet Holy Comforter “turns out to be the richest spiritual and theological environment I’ve ever been in,” he said.

“We have a rich liturgical life, a prayer book-centered liturgy, but the thing that has amazed me is how rich the environment is because of the presence of people who aren’t like I am, … and how visibly God is working in their lives, and how strong their faith is, in spite of their Job-like lives.”

Are there disruptions? Sure, Tanner said. “There are odd things, like one woman who’s so severely affected that she will get up in the middle of my preaching or celebrating and walk up to the altar and move something from one side to the other. In many ways, we’ve learned to be more relaxed about that than if we were in a buttoned-up place.”

The remainder of the congregation “are people who find this kind of church a very attractive place to be, that worshipping God in the presence of poverty and chronic illness and that kind of vulnerability on the surface all the time, enriches their spiritual lives and also gives them a sense of mission of something they can do in the world to help people, to further the kingdom.”

Like Helen Cabe, an independent contractor nurse, who said she went to Holy Comforter about four years ago to donate clothes, “fell in love with the place and the next thing I knew, I was driving vans and serving meals. I joined the church, got baptized and here I am.”

“Some really different stuff happens there, but also some very amazing things happen,” said Cabe, 45. With “some mental health issues in my family” she especially likes the services Holy Comforter provides, through its Friendship Center, to the community.

“Society just does not provide for people with mental illness,” she said. “The safety net is not effective. A lot of our members live in some pretty rough conditions and aren’t cared for. We advocate for them. We provide services, meals. One of our members who has a mental health disability used to be a nurse and is now employed by the church to do vital signs; and he has a foot clinic.”

Moreover, everyone is involved in the church’s liturgical life, she added. “We have people at so many different levels of ability. So, people who are able to read get up and read. One of our choir members lives in a group home and the people who carry the offering plates, and the bread and wine, are profoundly disabled.

“We encourage wellness, and for everybody to do as much as they can,” she said. “It makes for more of a sense of community. It’s not us and them; it’s all of us together.”

From left, May C. Brown, director of Friendship Center’s gardening program; Eddie Dillard, gardener and Alice Delaney, parishioner, volunteer, and Brown’s partner join a customer to look over a selection of plants at the farmers’ market at the Cathedral of St Philip. Photo: Ann Fowler/Holy Comforter

For Richard Cummins, 47, the gardening program at the Friendship Center has meant a whole new life and community.

“It’s hard for me not to worry and stuff,” Cummins told ENS. “I worry about things that a lot of people wouldn’t worry about. My anxiety prevented me from holding a job and I ended up in a personal-care home,” he said.

When the Holy Comforter van picked up other residents at the group home a few years ago, he decided to go along, too. Now, he works Tuesdays and Thursdays — and since it’s springtime, on Saturdays, too — in the garden center. “I do just about everything in the garden, transplanting, I’m real good at organizing and cleaning out the tool shed. This year, we’ve planted tomatoes, herbs, parsley, eggplant, just about everything, and flowers. And I weed the garden.”

And that’s not all. “I sing in the choir,” Cummins said. “I do bible readings at the Wednesday evening services and I’m on the vestry.”

Last year, the center served 16,000 meals, provided arts and other programs to an average 85 people daily. If ever there was a community “that owned mental illness and claimed it for what its redemptive value can be, this is it,” said Collins.

‘Friend to Friend’ – learning to engage

Through the diocesan Episcopal Community Services congregations in the Diocese of San Diego can offer support and assistance to homeless people who also suffer from mental illness, according to Lesslie Keller, executive director/chief executive officer.

“It’s an old-fashioned, street-based ministry to the chronically ill who also have a diagnosis of mental illness,” Keller told ENS. “I find that usually has a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. We’re dealing with people with schizophrenia, bipolar, anxiety disorder who experience repeated bouts of homelessness or long-term periods of homelessness.”

San Diego County has an estimated 9,000 homeless people, mainly in the downtown area, Keller said. Volunteers for the Friend to Friend program invite homeless persons to a drop-in center, where case management services, arts and other classes and meals are available to them. Congregations sponsor the meals, according to Deann Ayer, community engagement coordinator. “It’s a welcoming, inviting place where people can work on their goals and seek healing and significant progress,” Ayer said.

On a mission to “dismantle the stigma of mental illness” Keller said that, inevitably, whenever she makes presentations about Friend To Friend, “someone pulls me aside and in a confessional way tells me about a family member suffering from mental illness and in a very moving and concerning way tells me how the family can’t talk about it.”

Part of a trend across the church

Increasingly, faith communities across the nation are acknowledging the need to equip clergy and congregations to assist persons with mental illness.

The Rev. Canon Angela Shepherd is leading a series of Mental Health First Aid workshops in the Diocese of Maryland, as a proactive way of “offering support, and pointing people in the right direction for mental health care,” she wrote in an email to ENS. “The workshop covers suicide, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. The information is pertinent for clergy and lay alike.”

All of which “has really hit home,” for the Rev. Caroline Stewart, associate rector of The Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore, who acknowledged that she, along with parishioners, has family members living with mental illness. But often, “because of the stigma associated with it, they don’t self-identify.”

While most persons coping with mental illness are not violent, a clergy colleague and a parish administrator were killed by an individual who was homeless who had mental health issues two years ago at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, she said. Since then, “we have had programs deliberately on mental illness, for not only the congregation but for the community. We will do something each year to de-stigmatize the issue of mental illness,” she said.

“Anything you can do to bring it into the sunshine of day,” she added. “You never know who you’re going to touch and what impact you’ll have.”

Victoria Slocum, a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky, is hoping to develop ways to incorporate persons with intellectual disabilities into worship services because “liturgical churches like the Episcopal Church are ideally suited because we follow a precise format in our services.”

Her efforts may also assist congregations in opening themselves up, as well. “I remember being in a church with a woman who had three children with severe ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) who was asked not to come back to the church,” she said.

The former special-education teacher also “had parents who said they would like to go to church but didn’t want to take their children for fear they’d disrupt the service.

“People in need, need the church most,” she said. “That’s why we need to make our churches truly welcoming and create a situation where they can participate. It’s more than just coming and sitting in church. The question is, if a person wants to worship, how can we include them? Everyone’s got a right to worship as they wish or not, but if they do wish to worship, how can we make it accessible to them?”

Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Atlanta is “a congregation living with significant mental illness,” its vicar says. Photo: Richard Norris/Holy Comforter

Tanner of Holy Comforter said: “You have to start with the realization that, whether I can see it or not, right now it’s in my parish and if I begin manifesting an openness to talking about mental illness and to people with mental illness, if I stop resisting the stigma of mental illness, I can create an environment within the parish that makes people feel safe to talk about it.”

“People don’t talk about things like that in church because church is just like the rest of society in so many cases and the rest of society doesn’t want to know about it.”

He added that: “People with mental illness are very aware they’re different and that it’s dangerous to let other people know what they’re going through,” he added.

Holy Comforter’s program is not based on a charity model and that is a good thing, according to the Friendship Center’s Collins. “This is a model of mutuality and in that mutuality of personhood and human dignity, no one is providing ministry to the mentally ill.”

“We are just a congregation living with significant mental illness,” he said. “And what I’m learning at my time at Holy Comforter is, when you extend ministry with, rather than ministry to, it starts to open up ministry with every group, so inclusion just breeds more inclusion.”

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

Kansas Bishop Dean Wolfe issues statement in response to shootings

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 14, 2014

A statement in response to the Jewish Community Center shootings

“Hatred makes everyone look like the enemy”

 April 14, 2014

The news of an armed man shooting and killing a teenager and his grandfather at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, and a woman at the Village Shalom assisted living facility, is another shocking reminder of the culture of violence that continues to flourish within our larger culture. We are particularly saddened to learn these murders appear to have been motivated by anti-Semitic feelings expressed by the man now in custody for these crimes.

On Sunday, the violence came to us. These are our neighbors. These are our friends. This is not somewhere strange and far away for us. These violent incidents happened in our diocese. My son played several basketball games at the Jewish Community Center when he was a student at Bishop Seabury Academy. We have friends who regularly participate in programs there.

On Sunday afternoon the Jewish Community Center was filled with young people from a myriad of faith traditions rehearsing plays and auditioning for musical competitions. It says something about the way in which people of different faith traditions live and work so closely together in our community that a man intent on killing members of the Jewish faith went to a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish assisted care facility and took the lives of two Methodists and a Roman Catholic. Hatred makes everyone look like the enemy.

We grieve with those who have lost their loved ones, and our hearts are broken by this senseless tragedy. So what should we do now? First, we do what people of faith have done for thousands of years when faced with tragedy. We gather together. We retell the ancient stories of our faith. We share our grief. We hold tightly to one another. We hold our children closer. We call upon our God to comfort us.

On Sunday evening the Reverend Gar Demo, the Reverend Ben Varnum and the people of Saint Thomas the Apostle in Overland Park opened their church for an interfaith service of “Light in the Midst of Darkness.” Working with Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn of Temple Israel, they invited a number of community, ecumenical and interfaith leaders to speak and to pray. It was an extremely moving worship experience featuring the faith-filled testimony of the mother who lost her son and her father in this tragedy.

We can say we are shocked by these events. And we are. We can say we are saddened. And that expression does not even begin to communicate our profound heartbreak. What we cannot say is we are surprised. Shootings and violent incidents like this one occur almost weekly in the United States of America. When will it stop? What will the faith community do about it?

This epidemic of violence has become a significant public health issue that calls for a response. What does it tell us when our children sound like old hands when it comes to tactics like “sheltering in place” or “locking down?” Due to the frequency of these shootings, our children have practiced these tactics for years. From the school shootings at Columbine, to the massacre of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School, to the mass murder of people attending a movie in Aurora, Colorado, this has become the new normal. It is not acceptable.

In this most holy of weeks, let us continue to pray for all those affected by this tragedy, and let us prayerfully consider what each of us can do to stop this vicious cycle of violence.

The Rt. Rev. Dean Wolfe, Ninth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas

 

Brazilian Archbishop visits flood victims; hardest hit still need help

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 14, 2014

[Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil] Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva of the Episcopal Anglican Church in Brazil recently visited communities in the state of Rondonia, which along with the neighboring state of Acre, have been hit the hardest by some of the worst flooding in over half a century. The Brazilian government has implemented a state of emergency in these areas and begun responding to the needs of those affected, but Archbishop Francisco reported that many communities are still isolated and practically without resources these weeks after the flooding.

Water is nothing new to this region of the country. Not only do rivers provide many with work and sustenance, but they also form part of the major infrastructure in connecting communities to one another. The Madeira river, a tributary of the Amazon and a major part of life in the Rondonia capital city of Porto Velho, rose to 17m (55 ft) above its normal level. Even for an area that is technically listed as having a monsoon climate with a 10-month rainy season, water movement on such a scale as this has already left thousands displaced and homeless. Food, medical supplies, and potable water remain urgently needed in numerous communities. Riverside communities have been severely affected, with major roads and highways in and out of Porto Velho also damaged.

The archbishop recently released a communiqué sharing the difficult scenes which he encountered on his trip: “Nearly 20,000 people homeless, boats sunken, houses below the water, an incalculable number of lost items, and a feeling of impotence of the authorities. The fishing areas were the most affected, where people lost everything they had without time to rescue any items due to the rate at which the water rose.  I met families living in the middle of the forest, living in deplorable conditions, stuck living in improvised canvas tents without dignified sanitary conditions, many of them just with the clothes on their backs.”

The Brazilian government’s branch that responds to natural disasters, the Civil Defense, has been on the ground in affected areas, but aside from difficulties in navigating flooded areas, responses are not always what they could be. Archbishop Francisco expressed disbelief and frustration upon learning that families were only given a meager 5 liters of potable water for a 15-day period.

The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil has already received $5,000 from Episcopal Relief and Development for flood response, which the primate personally delivered to families in affected areas.

For more information on the flooding in Brazil, please see previous articles:

Primate: Hydroelectric projects to blame for Brazil flooding

Archbishop Francisco appeals for support

Royal couple visit New Zealand cathedral

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 14, 2014

 

Bishop Victoria Matthews tells the royal couple about the new transitional cathedral
Photo: Jayson Rhodes/AnglicanTaonga

[Anglican Taonga] Prince William concluded a visit to Christchurch’s Transitional Cathedral today with a promise to return, perhaps to ‘open buildings and cut ribbons.’

The Prince also acknowledged the importance of the relationship between the church and the city.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were given a tour of the Transitional Cathedral by Bishop Victoria Matthews and Dean Lynda Paterson.

As features of the building were explained, the Cathedral Choir sang HIne e Hin e.

Prince William and Katherine were then photographed with the choir.

While chatting with the boys, the royal couple asked how often they sang in the Cathedral.

One boy responded: ‘Too much.’

Bishop Victoria said the royal visit was extremely important for both the city and the church.

“Prince William came to Christchurch after the February 2011 earthquake, and to see new buildings such as the Transitional Cathedral that speak of hope, shows his ongoing support and relationship with this city.”

The royal couple left the Cathedral with a gift for George; a newly published book called ‘Kia Kaha’s Brand New House.’

This is the second in a series by Clare Erasmus and tells of a cathedral mouse, called Kia Kaha, getting a new home after the earthquake damages the Cathedral in the Square.

The author, Clare Erasmus, who is part of the Cathedral community, presented copies of the books.

The Duke and Duchess said they would each be able to read one of the books to George.

The books tell of the earthquake losses and point forward with the building of the Transitional Cathedral as a new home for Kia Kaha.

Clare Erasmus said she felt privileged that George would have books read to him about the much-loved city of Christchurch.

The couple acknowledged staff and volunteers in the foyer of the Cathedral before heading from the quiet of the Transitional Cathedral to a walkabout in Latimer Square.

Ecumenism must involve dialogue and social action, says Welby

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 14, 2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, at an ecumenical reception in St. James Cathedral Centre. Welby visited the Anglican Church of Canada April 7 to 8. Photo: Michael Hudson

[Anglican Journal] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has underscored the value of continuing ecumenical dialogue at a “passionate theological level” while at the same time having “a closer relationship of action” that addresses the needs of the world in such areas as poverty and social justice.

Ecumenism must be “something that is our burning desire,” Welby told a gathering of ecumenical guests at a reception at Toronto’s St. James’ Cathedral Centre, during his “personal, pastoral visit” to the Anglican Church of Canada April 8 to 9.  “In the last seven verses of John: 17, Jesus prays with extraordinary passion and extraordinary directness about the absolute necessity of the visible unity of the church…Love one another…”

In a divided and diverse world, Welby said the church could demonstrate “how humanity can overcome its cultural divisions and truly be…a holy nation of God’s people.”

In different parts of the world, there has been “a new movement of the spirit,” said Welby. He cited a decision by Chemin Neuf, a Jesuit-founded French Catholic community with an ecumenical vocation, to accept his invitation to take up residence in Lambeth Palace.

Last January, four members set up “a fraternity” in Lambeth Palace. “We hope that is something that will grow and develop,” said Welby, adding that he and his wife, Caroline, got to know the community over the last seven years. (The archbishop’s spiritual director is a Swiss Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Nicholas Buttet.)

The Guardian newspaper has noted that the move breaks five centuries of Anglican tradition and ushers “a further rapprochement between the churches of England and  Rome.”

Welby also noted that his relationship with Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols has been “very, very warm,” and that they meet regularly on Sunday afternoons. They recently launched Listen to God: Hear the Poor, a special week of prayer for Christian social action.

“Everything we do in church has to be rooted in theology, theological anthropology and ecclesiology. Those are things we cannot and must not avoid,” said Welby. But at the same time, he said, Christians must draw on “the riches that God has given us.” He noted how Catholic social teachings have been “formative influences of my own thinking in terms of the ministry of the church, and the most powerful one from which I’ve learned and continue to learn.”

In his remarks, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, noted that Welby has made a commitment to ecumenical dialogue “and furthering the realization of our Lord’s prayer that we may all be one.”

In his first year of ministry, the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as priorities “evangelism, resurgence of prayer and religious life in the church, and reconciliation,” said Hiltz. “At the heart of reconciliation [is] reconciliation within his own church…with the Anglican Communion…with the whole church.”

Archdeacon Bruce Myers, co-ordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations at the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod, said he welcomed Welby’s reminder that “we, as divided churches, must continue to painstakingly work out the knots of our theological differences while at the same time giving practical expression to the unity we already share by engaging together in mission.”

Myers said the fact that Welby set aside time in his tight schedule to meet with the Anglican Church of Canada’s ecumenical partners is “a measure of the value he, our churchand our communion place on being attentive to our relationships with other Christians.”

The gathering also gave the Anglican church’s partners “a glimpse of what it means for Canadian Anglicans to be a part of a worldwide family of churches like the Anglican Communion, and why that’s an important aspect of our identity.”

Before the reception, Welby and the ecumenical guests gathered for vespers at  the historic Cathedral Church of St. James.

The ecumenical guests included the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins; Nora Sanders, general secretary of the United Church of Canada; the Rev. Stephen Kendall, principal clerk of the Presbyterian Church in Canada; Lt. Col. Jim Champ, of the Salvation Army, who is also president of the Canadian Council of Churches; and the Rev. Karen Hamilton, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches.

Also present were Archbishop Colin Johnson, of the Anglican diocese of Toronto and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario; and the Very Rev. Douglas Stoute, dean of Toronto.

- See more  here.

‘Reclaiming Gospel of Peace’ wraps up in Oklahoma City

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 14, 2014

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reads the intentions conference attendees placed on cross during the closing Eucharist of Reclaiming Gospel of Peace at St Paul’s Cathedral in Oklahoma City. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] After nearly three days of learning and praying about how to turn the epidemic tide of violence in the world, participants in the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace gathering left here to begin Holy Week as the United States witnessed yet another shooting attack.

Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, of Aurora, Missouri, is accused of killing three people during two separate shootings April 13 in Overland Park, Kansas, at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and in a parking lot at Village Shalom, a senior living community about a mile away. Cross is as a former Ku Klux Klan leader with a history of anti-Semitism and racism, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups.

Temple Israel and St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Overland Park gathered at St. Thomas the evening of the shootings for a vigil service for those who were impacted by the violence.

“I know they are in heaven together,” Mindy Corporon told the vigil. She is the daughter of slain William Lewis Corporon and mother of Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, who was killed with his grandfather.

The name of the third person killed, a woman, has not yet been released.

“There are no words but words are all we have,” Kansas Bishop Dean Wolfe told those gathered.

And, at the end of the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace gathering on April 11, Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton told the participants that “out of talk, much can happen.”

Two women who have experienced horrific violence and its aftermath set the tone for the closing day of the gathering.

The Rev. Kathie Adams-Shepherd, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Connecticut, gave the morning reflection April 11 and talked about her parish’s experience of the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

“I am standing here this morning because the violence that takes the lives of God’s beloved children every day all over our county and our world visited us in all its horrific and tragic loss in the quiet suburb of Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012,” said the Rev. Katie Adams-Shepherd, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Connecticut, during morning worship.

“Twenty-eight lives, violently and tragically cut short by a mentally ill man who had access to the kinds of weapons and high capacity magazines that he simply should never have had at his disposal, but rather should have had access to affirming mental health care and support,” she said.

“We in Newtown are well aware that we joined a large part of the world that suffers mercilessly from violence and terrorism.”

In the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the world took notice and the tragedy served as a  “tipping point” for people of faith, she said.

“It’s a very important part of the healing process for every person touched by violence and violent death that we come together from all corners of live and faith, belief and perspectives seeking a way, multiple ways to live as co-missioners with God,” said Adams-Shepherd.

“I’m sorry that it took such a tragedy in an affluent community in one of the wealthiest counties in a first world country to wake us up even just enough to have conversations like this one,” said Adams-Shepherd. “The horrific and violent deaths of our brothers and sisters and all of our children all over the world for all these years should have been equally compelling.”

In the 16 months following the shooting, Adams-Shepherd said her community has become more engaged with others worldwide, including in Oklahoma, Colorado, South Sudan and El Salvador, communities that have suffered violent deaths, whether they’ve resulted from natural disasters or mark the everyday reality of life.

Melissa McLawhorn Houston, a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing, shared her story with the group. Houston participates in the National Memorial and Museum’s First Person: Stories of Hope program. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

Melissa McLawhorn Houston has also transformed her experience of violent death into a way to help others around the world deal with similar events. She survived the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. On that day during Holy Week almost 20 years ago Timothy McVeigh committed an act of domestic terrorism that killed 168 people and injured 600 others; one of the first 20th century tragedies in what has become an epidemic of violence in the United States.

Houston and other bombing survivors tell their stories to visitors to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum and to people who have suffered from violence, including the 2011 bombing and shootings in Norway that left nearly 100 people dead.

“One of the biggest ingredients that we see in terrorists is a lack of hope,” Houston told Reclaiming the Gospel participants during a visit to the museum. “If you don’t have your own sense of hopefulness for your own life, that’s where a lot of that starts from.”

Houston, who spent 10 years working for the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security after the Murrah bombing and who now works as chief of staff for the state’s attorney general, said ultimately she had to choose how to respond to what happened to her that day in downtown Oklahoma City. She has chosen to be a “hopeful witness” despite feeling “a sense of evil” in the second after the blast knocked her to the ground of her office across the street from the Murrah building and showered her with debris.

The Rev. Joseph Harmon, rector of Christ Church, East Orange, New Jersey, takes in the exhibits at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

Experiencing that sort of violence does not leave people unscathed, Houston acknowledged, recalling her message and those of other Murrah survivors to survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks or last year’s Boston Marathon bombing, many of whom turned to Oklahoma City for help and advice.

They told those people “it really sucks where you are right now but you will eventually move on. You won’t get over it; you’ll be different, you’ll be changed but, you will continue to have a life.”

After suffering  violence, some people choose vengeance, wanting to destroy the person or system they believe cased them harm, Houston said.

But others, including the people who tell their stories via the museum’s education program, want to ask how society might help prevent vengeance from growing in people’s hearts. “How do we change people’s hearts and make them understand that just because they’re mad doesn’t entitle them to take 168 lives?” is the question they ask, she said.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts SChori preached April 11 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, at the close of the three-day Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace conference. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke about the role of the heart during her sermon at the gathering’s  closing Eucharist.

“Countering violence requires custody of the heart,” she said. “Violence begins in the heart, especially in hearts that have been wounded and scarred by the violence of others, and then react and respond aggressively, in overly defended ways.  Violence begins in the heart that cannot countenance vulnerability – rooted in fear that its own vitality will be extinguished.”

Violence is intrinsically kin to evil, she said, while “the ultimate counterforce to fear is perfect love, the ability to share life to the full, with radical vulnerability, in the face of those who would destroy it.”

“Feeding the rage of violence may briefly burn out the heart of aggression, but it only increases the carnage,” Jefferts Schori said. “It does not increase love.”

Earlier in the conference Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also spoke of the heart’s role in transforming violence.

“Reconciliation and an end to violence, or the transformation of violent conflict into non-violent conflict is something that can only be achieved by sacrifice and by a prophetic stand,” he said. “There are no shortcuts and no cheap options, which is why this conference is so important. There are no shortcuts and there are no cheap options. We are talking at this point about change in the heart of the human being, and neither technology nor law will alter that.”

However, he warned participants of the work ahead, saying that “reconciliation with God is achieved through the cross, not through conferences and meetings and declarations.”

“The Christian disciple is to take up their cross, and for many even today this is no mere metaphor,” Welby said. “Bearing the cross means public ownership of Christ, public association and love with and for all those others who own Christ as Savior, and public commitment to follow Christ wherever we are taken.”

Beth Crow, youth missioner in the Diocese of North Carolina, writes “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,” on a blackboard panel during a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

Brother James Dowd, a member of the Order of the Holy Cross, echoed those sentiments when he said during a panel discussion on Episcopal responses to violence that to move more deeply non-violent discipleship of Christ, the contemplative life is essential.”

And, it’s not that God needs more monks and nuns, he said.

“What God needs is people on the street and people in the parish and people in their homes and people in the workplace who are contemplatives,” Dowd explained. “There’s all kinds of ways to do that in terms of your prayer life; there’s all kinds of prayer techniques. Whatever it is that you were to develop; it is a prayer life that helps you to love more deeply.

Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence was held April 9-11 at the Reed Center and the nearby Sheraton Midwest City was meant to help Episcopalians renew their commitment to the Gospel call to make peace in a world of violence and “reclaim their role in society as workers for nonviolence and peace.”

Conference attendees, including Bishop James Curry, bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Connecticut, center, listen as a National Parks Service guide describes the events of the of April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

The gathering of 220 people, including 34 bishops, Jefferts Schori and Welby, was centered on four pillars: advocacy, education, liturgy and pastoral care, aimed at addressing the culture of violence within and outside of the church.

Workshops and panel discussions touched on programs designed to meet the needs of children of incarcerated parents, to foster restorative justice programs and to curb violence through job creation and creating alternative paths for at-risk youth, as well as information about advocating for stricter gun laws and purchasing restrictions.

Jefferts Schori told a news conference on April 10 that the conference was about “encouraging the world to pay attention to what we believe is the gospel about the reign of God” that describes a “world where people live in peace because there is justice.”

“We are seeking to respond to the eternal epidemic of violence in our culture and around the world,” she said.

 – The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg and Lynette Wilson are editors/reporters for the Episcopal News Service.

San Joaquin: Court rules St. John’s belongs to the Episcopal Church

ENS Headlines - Monday, April 14, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] A California Superior Court has ruled that the 160-year-old landmark St. John the Evangelist Church in downtown Stockton, California, is to be used for the mission of the Episcopal Church.

In issuing the April 2 ruling, Stockton Superior Court Judge Roger Ross granted the Diocese of San Joaquin‘s motion for summary judgment, agreeing with previous court rulings that “all the parish assets and parish premises are held for the ministry and mission of the church and the diocese” and the wider church.

Once the individuals of St. John’s former vestry left the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, they “ceased to be the directors and officers of, and could no longer represent or otherwise act on behalf of the parish corporation, and as a result had no authority to act on behalf of the parish corporation,” according to the decision.

San Joaquin Bishop Provisional David Rice said, “I join with Episcopalians throughout San Joaquin in looking forward to exploring the ways in which St. John’s, Stockton can continue to be a center of celebration and place from which God’s mission is evident.

“We believe St. John’s provides a marvelous opportunity to become a place of reconciliation and again, given its context, a downtown center for much needed urban ministry. We also look forward to seeking ways in which we might welcome any parishioners to remain.”

St. John’s was established as a congregation in 1854 and is a landmark church in downtown Stockton. Located at 316 N. Dorado St., its assets include commercial property.

It is the latest church property to be returned to the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin since theological differences purportedly split the diocese in 2007. Those differences resulted in legal cases concerning church properties still held by former members.

Altogether, other properties in Ridgecrest (St. Michael’s), Turlock (St. Francis), Bakersfield (St. Paul’), Delano (Hope and Redeemer) and Sonora (St. James) have also returned to the Episcopal Church. Another church property, St. Paul’s, Modesto was returned July 1, 2009 prior to litigation.

State and federal courts have consistently ruled that church properties are held in trust by the diocese for the mission and ministry of the wider Episcopal Church and that while dissenting members may leave, they cannot take property with them, according to Michael Glass, diocesan chancellor.

Other disputed properties are in various stages of litigation, Glass said.

–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles. 

 

‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’

ENS Headlines - Friday, April 11, 2014

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.][Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori delivered the following sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral on April 11 at the close of Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence being held at the Reed Center and the nearby Sheraton Midwest City in Oklahoma. 

Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace
Oklahoma City
11 April 2014
St. Paul’s, Cathedral, 5:30 pm

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  The ability to do that begins with the heart.  There’s a traditional Irish prayer that goes something like this, “May those who love us love us.  And those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts.  And if he doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so we will know them by their limping.”

That is a start, and it’s honest – it doesn’t hide the complexity of feeling about an enemy.  But those who would be perfect, as Jesus charges us, have to keep looking beyond subtle forms of vengeance or branding those we deem unlovable with some obvious sign of their irredeemability – as though we might not have to try so hard to love them.  Learning to live without violence is an ongoing struggle.

Violence is anything that seeks to diminish life – especially another person’s integrity or dignity or life possibilities.  The word comes from the same root as vital, but it moves in the opposite direction, away from what God has created and called good and blessed.  Violence misuses the gift of life, trading it for some dull or brassy idol that promises control, predictability, or certainty.  That brassy idol is simply a dressed up and tricked out phantasm of death.  The life God has created is free to choose – and it can choose life or death.  Violence seeks to steal that freedom or end it.  Violence can be an instinctive reaction to preserve life when other violence threatens – like attacking a charging animal likely to maim vulnerable children.  Violence can also be a more or less conscious choice that seeks to augment life at the cost of others – the assassination of a political opponent, or the crazed mayhem of an unstable shooter.

We often try to counter violence by superior violence or by fencing it in.  Jesus teaches another way.

The nuns in the convent school I attended as a child taught us custody of the eyes – being conscious about what we see, and turning away from distractions that prevent us from seeing the presence of the holy.  Sometimes we need to avoid seeing what is unhelpful or unedifying or because it may harm another.  But it’s also about seeing what needs to be noticed, either for praise or correction.  Do you remember Shug telling Celie, “I think it [ticks] God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice.”[1]  Custody of the eyes is about cultivating a kind of purity of seeing, a perfection that avoids aggressive possession as well as defensiveness.  It can be misused – in the overly guarded vision that refuses to see a neighbor in need, or as we were also taught by those nuns to avoid playing with Protestant children lest we be tainted or misled.

Countering violence requires custody of the heart.  Violence begins in the heart, especially in hearts that have been wounded and scarred by the violence of others, and then react and respond aggressively, in overly defended ways.  Violence begins in the heart that cannot countenance vulnerability – rooted in fear that its own vitality will be extinguished.  As the counterforce to abundant life, violence is intrinsically kin to evil.

The ultimate counterforce to fear is perfect love, the ability to share life to the full, with radical vulnerability, in the face of those who would destroy it.  The undefended Jesus shows us the way.  He does not go about with armies or weapons, he does not protest the words of his captors, he does not defend himself or attack others with violent words or actions, and it is ultimately his ability to set his life-force and spirit free, fully free, that deprives the evil around him of any ultimate power.

Vulnerability is finally galvanizing those of us who are less than perfect into action – through the slaughter of innocents in our schools and on our streets, and the willingness to let our hearts bear some of that pain.  The civil rights struggles of this nation, and the wanton violence of others, even those charged to uphold the law, finally galvanized the passive people of this nation into active response. Response in the face of lynchings, cross burnings, fire hoses, and attack dogs.  That active response is most effective when it is non-violent and openly vulnerable.

It looks like the widow, showing up day after day to ask for justice.  It is Paul urging, “don’t repay evil with evil… never avenge yourselves… No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you heap burning coals on their heads.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”[2]  I believe Paul means burning coals not as vengeance, but the coal the angels use to touch Isaiah’s lips, and remove his guilt and sin.[3]

Non-violence is ultimately the only creative response, for an absence of life cannot bring about greater life.  Feeding the rage of violence may briefly burn out the heart of aggression, but it only increases the carnage.  It does not increase love.

Custody of the heart is what Jimmy Carter was talking about when he said that he’d committed adultery many times in his heart.  We commit violence when we judge others less than ourselves, when we wish them ill, when we give them labels that serve to pre-judge or dismiss them.  Peace-making begins in the depths of our hearts, by loving those we first address as enemies.

Enemy literally means “not a friend.”  Acting out of love begins to change that.  It begins in our hearts, in response to threat and stranger, and it moves out across families, communities, and nations.  If the immediate response to perceived threat is an attempt to destroy, we are no better than the beasts.  When we can “be not anxious” we just might meet Jesus in this one who is not yet known as friend.

Custody does not mean closing up your heart – it means setting boundaries on how the heart responds, it’s more like stewardship, guarding and keeping watch.  It is aided by remembering – even by rehearsing – that we are God’s beloved and God is well pleased with us, and with every other human creature on this earth, and that God has given abundance for the good of all creation.

Custody of the heart is a spiritual discipline that unleashes the power of love and abundant life.  In the midst of the Irish troubles 40 years ago, instead of praying that God turn an enemy’s ankle, I discovered that I was being led to pray for Ian Paisley.  At the time he seemed to me an image of evil incarnate.  But that discipline changed my heart.  When a stranger grabbed me when I was out running a couple of years ago, I yelled and wrestled with him until we reached a stalemate.  It finally dawned on me that putting my foot in a sensitive place might induce him to let go – and it did, without damage to either of us.  At another time in my life I think I might have tried to hurt him before I realized that he was mentally ill, that I had somehow entered his zone of safety and threatened him.  I still wish that I had been present enough to hug him rather than running away.

Consider how violence was transfigured in the shooting in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania – the story known to many of us through Amish Grace.  The community forgave, reconciled, and rebuilt their school house, naming it New Hope.  The memorial site in this city has begun to turn swords into plowshares by planting a garden, letting water flow in the desert, and remembering and celebrating the unique gifts of each vulnerable and beloved child of God who died in that place.

Countering violence begins in our hearts – with the words we choose, the judgments we make, and the vulnerability we’re willing to assume.  We stand at the gate of Holy Week.  Before us is the cosmic example of the prince of peace, who befriends the world, and meets the world’s violence with love.

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.
Deep peace of the prince of peace to you – and through you, to the world.

[1] The Color Purple, Alice Walker.  1982.
[2] Romans 12:17, 19, 20-21
[3] Isaiah 6:6-7

Video: Heidi Schott talks about rural poverty and restorative justice in Maine

ENS Headlines - Friday, April 11, 2014

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.]

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Heidi Schott, canon for communications in the Diocese of Maine, talks about generational poverty, the high prevalence of domestic violence in her state and the diocese’s taking on restorative justice work.

Video: Nevada Bishop Dan Edwards on how to counter violence

ENS Headlines - Friday, April 11, 2014

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.][Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Diocese of Nevada Bishop Dan Edwards describes how his diocese is working against what he calls “this crazy violence” that he says is often bred in loneliness, despair and disempowerment. Edwards spoke to ENS while attending the April 9-11 Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence being held at the Reed Center and the nearby Sheraton Midwest City here.

Video: Priest Joseph Harmon describes a way to influence guns sales

ENS Headlines - Friday, April 11, 2014

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.][Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] The Rev. Joseph Harmon, rector of Christ Church, East Orange, New Jersey, in the Diocese of Newark describes an effort to get state and local law enforcement agencies to discuss safe-gun technology with their firearm vendors. Harmon says that, after the U.S. military and other federal law-enforcement agencies, state and local police form the largest single group of gun buys in the United States and, thus, could be a strong advocacy voice. Harmon spoke to ENS while attending the April 9-11 Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence being held at the Reed Center and the nearby Sheraton Midwest City here.

Video: Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith

ENS Headlines - Friday, April 11, 2014

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.][Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith discusses the growing epidemic of violence and how he and other Episcopal Church bishops have come together to form Bishops Against Gun Violence to begin to stem the tide. Beckwith spoke to ENS while attending the April 9-11 Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence being held at the Reed Center and the nearby Sheraton Midwest City here.

Video: B-PEACE for Jorge, an antiviolence campaign in Massachusetts

ENS Headlines - Friday, April 11, 2014

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.]

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Julia MacMahon, lead organizer for B-PEACE for Jorge, and Tania Ortiz, a youth organizer, talk about the Diocese of Massachusetts’ antiviolence initiative.

In September 2012, 19-year-old Jorge Fuentes was murdered while walking his dog outside his home in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He was an exuberant, remarkable young man and natural leader, adored by the children he mentored at St. Stephen’s Church and St. Mary’s Church in Boston and respected by his peers. Click here for more information.

 

Video: Lindsay Fry-Geier of New Hope Oklahoma

ENS Headlines - Friday, April 11, 2014

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.]

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Lindsay Fry-Geier, executive director of New Hope Oklahoma, a Tulsa-based nonprofit organization that serves children of incarcerated men and women, talks about violence, its effects on community and providing services more than 400 children to break the cycle of generational violence.

Archbishop says church must ‘join its enemies on their knees’

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 10, 2014

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke April 10 during the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

[Editors' note: a correction was made to this article to remove reference to the location of the mass grave where Welby said he had been told Christians were murdered out fear that they might become homosexual because of Western influence.]

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said April 10 that “the gospel of peace is reclaimed by loving those who love violence and hatred” and that a church committed to peacemaking “looks like those who join their enemies on their knees.”

“We celebrate the fact that as the Anglican Communion functioning as a community of peace across the world, as it does in so many places so wonderfully with such sacrifices, that it manages disagreement well in many places, that it maintains unity across diametrically opposed views on a matter – that that Anglican Communion to which we belong could be the greatest gift to counter violence of all descriptions in our world,” Welby said.

Welby spoke during the April 9-11 Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence being held at the Reed Center and the nearby Sheraton Midwest City here.

He said what is sought is a church “that bears the cross, that is so caught up in Jesus Christ and its relationship with Jesus Christ that it is drawn inexorably in partnership with the poor and pilgrimage alongside them, sharing the surprises and risks of the journey under the leadership of Jesus Christ.”

“We do not see such churches today on a global scale, although they may be found in many places at a local level,” he said. “To turn this into a national [phenomenon] such a great and huge nation as this, let alone a global phenomenon, is humanly impossible. We find it easier to be caught up in our own disputes and our own rights.”

It must be acknowledged that human beings are inclined towards violence, Welby told the gathering. “Violence is intrinsic to being human, and I have to say in particular to being human and male, or human and powerful, over against minorities of all kinds,” he said. “Moreover it is addictive, violence is addictive, and we become hardened to it.”

But, God “is committed to acting in response to wrongdoing” and is a God who judges but also saves, “giving of God’s own self to make an opportunity for rescue,” the archbishop said.

Thus, “the resort to violence is always the denial of the possibility of redemption,” he added. “And since in our hearts we believe in redemption as Christians, an early resort to violence denies the very heart of our faith.”

However, he said, Holy Week’s anticipation of Easter shows a different way.

“It is in accompanying Jesus on the long walk through Holy Week to the cross that we will find ourselves bound together afresh and love released,” Welby said. “The love will be such that we cannot imagine unless we turn to Christ in repentance, seeking to be those who challenge and overcome the violence that he himself bore for us on the cross. It will be a love that comes to reclaim in ourselves and in our communities the gospel of peace.”

The text of his speech is here.

At a later press conference with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny, Welby was asked about comments he made April 4 when he told a British radio call-in show that that Christians in parts of Africa face abuse, violence and even death because of decisions on sexual equality made by Anglican Churches in the West. His answer came in response to a question from the Rev. Kes Grant, a Church of England priest and school chaplain who had called in to ask why English clergy were not allowed to decide for themselves whether to marry gay couples.

“Why we can’t do it now is because the impact of that on Christians in countries far from here like South Sudan, like Pakistan, like Nigeria, would be absolutely catastrophic and we have to love them as much as the people who are here,” Welby said.

Welby explained that while standing at a mass grave he was told that the excuse given for the murder of hundreds of Christians there had been: “If we leave a Christian community in this area, we will all be made to become homosexual, and so we’re going to kill the Christians.”

Welby concluded, “The mass grave had 369 bodies in it and I was standing with the relatives. That burns itself into your soul, as does the suffering of gay people in this country.”

During the news conference, Welby noted that he had made similar comments in the past and that he was trying to say that “at its heart is the issue that we’re a global church.”

“The Anglican Communion is a global church.  And that wherever we speak, whether it’s here or in Africa, or in Asia or in any of the 143 countries in which we are operating, in which there are Anglicans, we never speak exclusively to ourselves but we speak in a way that is heard widely around the world,” he said. “And so the point I was making, because the question was essentially about why don’t we just go ahead and do gay marriages, we have a profound disagreement within the Church of England about the right thing to do, whether to perform gay marriages or have blessing of same sex marriages where the marriage has taken place in the civil system.”

Same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales on March 29. Parliament by a comfortable majority passed The Marriage (Same-sex Couples Act) in July 2013.

The Church of England is “starting two years of facilitated conversation about this and we are not going simply to jump to a conclusion, to preempt that conversation in any direction at all but we need to spend time listening to each other, listening to the voices around the communion,” Welby said.

The example he gave during the call-in program of his experience at the site of the mass grave “was of a particular example some years back which had had a great impact on my own thinking,” he said during the news conference.

Earlier in the day when the archbishop spoke to the entire gathering, he said he and his wife Caroline stood alongside a mass grave in Bor, South Sudan, where the bodies of clergy and lay South Sudanese people were buried in what he has described as a massacre influenced by western acceptance for same-sex marriage.

“I think we need to be aware of the realities on the ground in our own countries and around the world and to take those into account when we are moving forward,” Welby said during the news conference.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you do something other than you feel is the right thing to do but you are aware of the need perhaps to do it in a different way,” he continued. “It means particularly in these conversations that we have to make sure that we hear the voice of the LGBT community, which themselves in many parts of the world, including in our own countries suffer a great deal, and we also need to hear very carefully the voices of other members of the church, of other faiths, of ecumenical partners, so that it is a genuine process of listening and in listening to each to listening to the voice of God.”

A video clip of Welby’s comments at the news conference is here.

Welby came to the United States April 9 from Canada where he had spent four days meeting with Anglican leaders. Towards the end of that visit, Welby sat down for an interview with the Anglican Journal during which he also addressed his April 4 comments in a similar vein.

“One of the things that’s most depressing about the response to that interview is that almost nobody listened to what I said; they mostly imagined what they thought I said…It was not only imagination, it was a million miles away from what I said,” he added.

Both the Canadian and U.S. visits, which Lambeth Palace has said are “primarily personal and pastoral,” are part of the archbishop’s plan to visit the leader of every Anglican Communion province by the end of this year. Details about his other such visits thus far are here.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg and Lynette Wilson are editors/reporters for the Episcopal News Service.

Long Island welcomes Assistant Bishop Chilton Knudsen

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 10, 2014

[Episcopal Diocese of Long Island press release] Bishop Chilton Knudsen, former Bishop of Maine and current Assistant Bishop of New York, has been appointed Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Long Island.  Starting on September 2, Bishop Knudsen will be asked to share in Bishop’s visitations three weekends per month and provide oversight on behalf of Bishop Provenzano for the ongoing work and ministry of Episcopal Charities and Episcopal Community Services.  She will work directly under Bishop Provenzano’s pastoral direction and in collaboration with diocesan staff.  Of her appointment, Bishop Knudsen writes, “I am excited and grateful for the opportunity to serve the Diocese of Long Island as Assistant Bishop and look forward to working with Bishop Provenzano in this part of the Body of Christ.”

Bishop Knudsen received her M. Div from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in 1980.  She was ordained deacon in 1980 and priest in 1981, first serving a new mission in Bolingbrook, IL; she later served in other congregations, both in rural and inner-city areas.  In 1987, Bishop Knudsen was called as Pastoral Care Officer (later Canon for Pastoral Care) in the Diocese of Chicago, where she developed a nationwide ministry of consulting and training about Sexual Misconduct in church settings.  The material she developed continues to be widely used.

While serving on diocesan staff in Chicago, Bishop Knudsen refreshed her high-school Spanish and served as supply priest and pastor for several Spanish-speaking congregations.  Her fluency was further refined as she helped establish La Mision de San Lucas in the Diocese of Maine.

Additionally, Bishop Knudsen has a long and personal interest in issues of addiction and recovery, especially regarding systems (congregations, dioceses, organizations) that have experienced the subtle yet powerful effects of addiction-in all its forms-in clergy or lay leaders.  As Bishop of Maine, she planted three new Maine congregations (including Maine’s only Latino congregation) and led in the revitalization of several congregations, including congregations that suffered from the aftermath of addiction in their leadership.

During Bishop Knudsen’s tenure in Maine, the Dioceses of Maine and Haiti inaugurated a Companion Diocese relationship with a number of ongoing partnerships in mission.  Bishop Knudsen herself served in 2009 as a missionary in Haiti, where she gained great respect for Haitian culture, learned to function liturgically in French, and built enduring friendships with clergy and lay leaders of that diocese.

Bishop Knudsen was born into a Navy family and grew up overseas in Guam/the Marianas Islands, the Philippines, and Japan.  She studied biology/ecology at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, PA, earning a BA in 1968. During graduate study at the University of Pittsburgh, she taught at her alma mater, developing interdisciplinary courses in Behavioral Biology and Ecosystem Analysis.  She later taught interdisciplinary courses at the community college level, and served as a counselor in women’s health clinics in Pittsburgh, PA and in Wheaton, IL.

Married since 1971 to Dr. Michael J. Knudsen, a retired engineer and composer, Bishop Knudsen delights in their adult son Dan, golf, opera and classical music, coastal scenery, and cross-cultural experiences.  The Knudsens make their home in Bath, Maine.

Video: Archbishop explains comments made to LBC radio

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 10, 2014

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.][Episcopal News Service - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in an April 10 press conference addressed comments he made last week on a British radio program saying that the Church of England’s embracing of same sex marriage could lead to the persecution and murder of Christians in other parts of the world.

Welby is attending Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence being held April 9-11 at the Reed Center and the nearby Sheraton Midwest City in Oklahoma.

Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton: Challenging the Mythology of Violence

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 10, 2014

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton April 9 gave the following remarks to the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence. The conference continues until April 11.

“Challenging the Mythology of Violence”
Given by the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of Maryland
At the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace Conference of the Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, OK
April 9, 2014

Let us pray.
Come by here, my Lord, come by here. Come by here, my Lord, come by here.  O Lord, come by here.
Someone’s dying Lord, come by here.  Someone’s dying Lord, come by here.  Someone’s dying Lord, come by here.  O Lord come by here.

Be present be present Lord Jesus.

The Episcopal Church aims to model at this gathering a civil and respectful conversation about violence in general and gun violence in particular — a dialogue that our society has not been able to accomplish. It arises out of a dream that a number of us had of gathering together Episcopalians from across the spectrum of geographical, political and theological differences to learn from each other, pray with each other, and discern together what the Spirit may be saying to us as church leaders.  In order to do this, we need to agree to make this a safe space, a “condemnation-free zone” for the next three days.

It will not help us to pre-judge each other here.  Do not assume that just because someone owns firearms that she or he is a right-wing, violence-prone, conspiracy theorist who does not want to end gun violence in our cities, towns and rural places.  And, on the other hand, do not assume that just because someone supports legislation to put limits on gun ownership that he or she is a left-wing, un-American, Constitution-tearing snob who wants to take away your private property and who does not himself or herself own firearms.  These are all unhelpful conversation starters, and not conducive to the building up of Christian community!  So, let’s leave all pre-judgments at the door, agreed?

What this means is that we are here to listen as much as we are here to advocate positions.  “Listening is the act of entering the skin of the other and wearing it for a time as if it were our own.”  (David Spangler in Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent)  It is in this climate of tolerance and respect that we can begin to address a major public health crisis in our country that increasingly is defining our image both here and abroad.

I want to speak to you know about Challenging the Mythology of Violence.
In the United States of America, the world’s only remaining superpower and self-proclaimed moral force for good in the world, 30,000 of its citizens are killed every year by firearms.  Another estimated 100,000 are shot every year, most of whom will carry permanent injuries, and all of whom will carry emotional scars for the rest of their lives.  Just think about these figures…what it means is that every 8-10 years, one million people are shot in this country.

This comes at a tremendous cost to our society: one million emergency room scenes, one million families grieving, one million victims and survivors trying to put broken bodies and wounded souls back together again.  The financial costs to our health system, the longterm costs of physical rehabilitation, and the emotional costs to the victims and their families last for decades.

The violence affects us all.  Whether it is in the middle class enclaves of Newtown, CT, on a native American reservation in the Dakota plains, a school campus in Colorado or Arkansas, an Army base in Texas, or on some forgotten street in Baltimore, Maryland -  we are a nation in mourning over the killing of its children.

What’s going to stop the epidemic of violence in our state, in or country, and in our world?  The Christian Gospel has proclaimed for thousands of years that there is a cure – but we have lost confidence in our day that that ancient solution will work.  For according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cure for violence is love.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you…” (Luke 6:27)

What?  Our violence-ridden culture would have us believe that what Jesus said in the gospel were wonderful words back then 2,000 years ago, and they may have worked well back there in Galilee, but we live in the real world in a very dangerous 21st century.  Love your enemies?  Love those who want to harm you? No, we must fight our enemies, outwit and outmaneuver our enemies, destroy and kill our enemies before they destroy and kill us.

And yet, Martin Luther King Jr., many years ago had this to say about these words of Jesus:
Jesus has become the practical realist…Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, the command [to love others] is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization.  Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.      -November 17, 1957

Well how can it actually work?  Remember a story that Gerald May, the Christian psychotherapist and spiritual guide at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in the Washington area, he once recounted this story:  “It was in 1976, and I had just received my first-level belt in the gentle Japanese martial art of Aikido: the practice (do) of the harmony (ai) of the universal energy (ki). A visiting master called me to the front of the room and he asked me to attack him.  He stood quietly as I charged at him, then turned his head slightly away.  My speed increased as I felt powerfully drawn toward him.  Then he bowed his head slightly and looked back at me, and I found myself lying comfortably on the floor.  We had not even touched…

“He explained that he had aligned himself with my attacking energy, joined it from his own centered stillness, and gently guided it back around me to towards the ground.  From my perspective, it seemed I had inexplicably decided to lie down and rest.”

What was that force, that non-violent power?  Power, in human terms, is the ability and use of force to accomplish one’s will over persons or situations.  But dunamis, the word for “power” which occurs over 120 times in the New Testament, is a creative, dynamic power that is very different from the “power over” aspects of human force or control.  Dunamis is spiritual power; the power that can only come from God.

As for human, or worldly, power, the United States is unquestionably the most powerful nation in the world. We have unparalleled economic power, so much so that it is said when the US economy sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.  We have immense technological power that enables American influence and culture to be felt to the farthest reaches of the earth – even into the universe.  We have unmatched military power, with capabilities of destroying targets with pinpoint accuracy from hundreds of miles away.

And yet, with all the power that is possible to acquire on this earth, still the United States of America is not able to force the rest of the world to act in accordance with our will, or to further our own national goals wherever and whenever we desire.  Despite our massive human power, we frequently find ourselves powerless to get persons or situations or countries under our control.  We find that we cannot force others to do what they do not want to do.

So we need to make a distinction between power on the one hand, and control on the other.  To illustrate that difference, I want to tell you about Louise Degrafinried.  Several years ago in Mason, Tennessee, an elderly black woman named Louise Degrafinried astounded the nation when she persuaded an escaped convict from a local prison to surrender.  He had a gun, and with his gun, he thought he had control.  He had surprised her husband Nathan outside their modest home and forced him inside.

But Louise was not afraid of the gun.  The short, grandmotherly woman told the convict to put his gun down while she fixed him some breakfast.  Now, I don’t know if you know anything about the amazing curative powers of a Southern home-cooked breakfast, it’s really built about fat.  While cooking the meal, Louise spoke of her faith and how a young man such as he should behave, and that with God’s help he could turn his life around.  Between the breakfast and her words, in no time at all, the young man was on his way back to the Tennessee prison.

The escaped convict had control, the control of the gun.  But Louise Degrafinried had power.

There is a fundamental distinction between control and power.  It is very important that we see it, both in our personal lives, in our society, and in our theology.  God, we say, is “omnipotent” – all powerful – and that is true, but we must not confuse that power with control.  God is all-power, but not all-control.  God has plenty of power, but chooses to exercise little control over the world.

The unchecked human need for control arises out of fear:  fear of a chaotic and unsafe world.  “If only the world were more predictable,” we think, “then I would feel better, I would feel safe.”  It is because of fear that humans tend to theologize a controlling God. Thus we also tend to believe that it is our duty, led by a controlling God, to control others by any of the means of control at our disposal – especially weapons. And there lies the idolatry.

But the agenda of God is not to control, but to love.  Love always seeks the best for the beloved, even at great cost.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…not to condemn the world [but to save it].”  (John 3:16-17)

The power of love to change the world cannot be underestimated. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr. again, he called that kind of power “soul force”.  The great American civil rights leader learned the principles of soul force from his reading of the ethics of Jesus, and from Gandhi’s use of the phrase to describe his methods of nonviolent resistance.

In terms of social change, “soul force” is based in the power of an idea:  freedom.  If our great nation has any real power at all, it is in the abundance of freedom that we enjoy here and our willingness to share this power with the world.  It is the only export that we have that has power over others – not money, not bombs, not self-interest, but freedom.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “When a people decide they want to be free, the nothing can stop them.”  They can even stare down the barrel of a gun – and they will prevail.

This soul force is not only the power to change human lives, but it is the most effective force that is available to humans to change whole societies toward the vision of God for the world.  In the book “A Force More Powerful”, written by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall in 2000, the authors carefully document over 15 movements of mass social change that have resisted systems of injustice on every continent of the world.  They have concluded that the 20th century should have been known as the century that has demonstrated the triumph of nonviolent action as the most powerful force in the world.  This massive and well-documented book reminds us that…

…it wasn’t physical force that drove the mighty British empire from colonial India in 1947, it was soul force.
…it wasn’t physical force that successfully resisted the Nazis in Denmark and saved many Jews it was soul force.…
…it wasn’t physical force that brought down the dictator General Martinez in El Salvador in 1944…
…it wasn’t physical force that brought down segregation in the American South in 50’s & 60’s…
…it wasn’t physical force that restored democracy to the Philippines in 1986…
…it wasn’t physical or violent force that moved Lech Walesa and Solidarity into power in Poland…
…it wasn’t physical force that brought down totalitarian regimes in the former USSR and Eastern Europe…
…it wasn’t physical force that dismantled apartheid and the racist government in South Africa…

In each case, it was soul force.

If the above representative list seems new or shocking to you, it is because we have done a poor job in this country of teaching any of the principles of nonviolent action as a way of solving conflicts.  We don’t do it. Many fear that our culture will never do this, because we have become intoxicated with violence as the only effective means to achieve our personal goals and national aspirations.  We have worshiped for too long at the altar of the gun to solve our problems.  This has led to what can be called The Mythology of Violence; namely, the widely held myth that violence works, and that nonviolence is a pipe dream for idealists who do not know how the world really operates.

I want to emphasize here that there is a time-honored tradition in Christianity of sometimes having to resort to a “just war” in certain extraordinary circumstances, and we are very dependent upon our brave men and women in the armed forces who are sometimes called upon to fight and put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.  We are grateful for their service and the service of all uniformed people; we pray for them and for our leaders to make wise decisions before sending them into armed conflict.  But you do not need be a pacifist like Jesus, Gandhi or King in order to learn any of the almost 200 methods of nonviolent action that have been proven to be effective in removing unjust institutions and governments, and restoring peace and freedom.  As Christians, as followers of Christ, we are called upon to teach peace as well as to practice peace, which means we have to continually re-learn the ways of peace in a culture that’s awash in violence.  We must repent, both individually and collectively, for believing that violence and killing will be the answer.

Just this past week I had the privilege of spending some time in Baltimore with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who was there to give a lecture.  I told him about this conference addressing violence, and I reminded him of some words he said 11 years ago that had a profound effect on me in my thinking about violence.  It was early 2003 when our nation was embroiled in an intense debate on whether or not the United States should invade Iraq to address the problem of Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction.  Dr. Williams said at that time:

“If all you have is hammers, then all you see is nails.”

His warning was clear.  If we put our trust only in guns and bombs to make peace, then we only see solutions that demand the use of guns and bombs.

Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr. can teach us once again how to “live together as [family] or die together as fools.”   Six months before he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet, he said this in a sermon:

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and. we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to love. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

That is the power of love. We need to teach that.  That is soul force…the way of Jesus.

Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny’s opening remarks

ENS Headlines - Thursday, April 10, 2014

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny April 9 opened the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence with the following remarks. The conference continues until April 11.

Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace
Sheraton Reed Center – Midwest City, Oklahoma
April 9, 2014

Bishop Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma

Why are We Here?

Good Evening!

For those who don’t know me I am Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma. On behalf of our Diocese and all Oklahomans we welcome you to our Great State!

We extend a special welcome to the Most Reverend and Right Honorable The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and his wife Caroline. And to the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and her husband Dick.

I hope you enjoy your stay here and more importantly that you find the time we will share together over the next couple of days to be Thought Provoking, Challenging and Empowering.
I have been asked to kind of set the stage for these next couple of days; and share some thoughts on “Why we are Here”…

Over the next two days you will hear some keynote presentations, have the opportunity to participate in workshops, exchange ideas and network in table discussion and self selecting groups, and visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site  of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing on April 19, 1995 where 168 souls were lost including 19 children. Following the visit to the National Memorial on Friday, we will gather for a closing Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral with our Presiding Bishop preaching. We will conclude our time together with dinner at the cathedral and hear thoughts on how we take what has started here at this conference and move it forward.

So Why are We Here?

On December 14, 2012, a young 20 year old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut and fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members. Before driving to the school the young man shot and killed his mother in their home; and then as first responders arrived at the school he shot and killed himself.

The incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School was not the first of these kinds of incidents in our society; and has not been the last.

In 1966, a former Marine killed 16 people and wounded 30 others at the University of Texas

1973, a 23 year old man killed 9 people at a Howard Johnson’s motel

1986, a part-time mail carrier killed 14 postal workers in a post office, here, in Edmond, Oklahoma leading to the often and unfortunately used phrase: “Going Postal”

1999, two young men, 18 and 17 years old killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado

2007 a 23 year old student killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University

2012 a 24 year old man killed 12 and wounded 58 others in a movie theater in Aurora Colorado

2013 a Civilian contractor fatally shot 12 and wounded 3 others inside the Washington Navy Ship Yard

And just this morning, a student moved through a school in Murrysville Pennsylvania stabbing and slashing more than 20 others before being taken into custody.

These are just a few; in the last 30 years there have been more than 60 mass killings in the United States; and this doesn’t even begin to take into account the single acts of violence resulting in loss of life, wounding, and maiming that occurs every day in our cities, towns, and communities across this country.

By any definition of the word, the frequency of violent acts in our society is of Epidemic Proportion.

With what always seems to be predictable regularity, what follows these incidents are the speculations of motive, the arm chair psychological profiling, the ideological positioning, the political rhetoric, and the finger pointing, trying to cast blame on someone or something.

And sadly, after a few weeks, the shock and devastation dissipates from those not directly affected; our attentions are drawn elsewhere; politicians move on to the next political debate; and we are left wondering why and how and won’t anything ever be done…

Doing something is why we are here…

For years people have cried out for the authorities or politicians to enforce existing laws and pass new ones. For years people have pointed the finger at this or that as the cause for the violence in our society. For years the polarizing voices of the extremes have dominated the conversation, entrenched in their idealistic positions and agendas; and stifled any attempt for a reasoned, common sense conversation and approach to challenging the increased incident of violence around us.

We are not here to cast blame; or to produce some statement or resolution calling on others to act; or to be drowned out by those who want to intimidate…

We are here to have a new conversation; a conversation that says we are not willing to accept that violence is a natural part of society; a conversation that acknowledges we live in relationship; and that we are all responsible for how we treat one another; a conversation that talks about how each of us can make a difference; about how each one of us can change the trajectory of violence in our world; A conversation that recognizes and honors the diversity of voices and perspectives and passions.

So how is it that I am standing before you today?

I represent one of those diverse voices…

So let me share a little of my story…

It was a little over a year ago when I received a call from the Bishop of Connecticut, Ian Douglas

Ian asked if I would be willing to participate in a panel discussion at our Spring House of Bishops Meeting to reflect about gun control and violence in our society following the horrific incident at Sandy Hook.

In all honesty I was surprised by Ian’s call. I told Ian that I didn’t think my perspective would be welcome as part of the discussion. I shared with Ian that I was a former cop, having served for nearly 20 years in Southern California; that I support the Constitutional Right to Bear Arms; I have a CCW Permit, and on occasion have been accused of being a “gun toting Bishop”. I suggested that he might want to reconsider his invitation. After all, my voice was not exactly in the mainstream of political correctness.

Ian paused and said “your voice and perspective is absolutely needed in this conversation”; He said, if we are ever going to be able to change the incidence of violence in our society, then all voices need to be heard; that we need to do something other than entrench ourselves in ideological positions.

So, with a little persuasion, encouragement, and arm twisting Ian convinced me that my voice, my experience might add something to the conversation.

As I prepared my remarks for that meeting, I became very aware of a tension, an internal struggle that was challenging me to get past my long held party line perspectives and dig deeper into what I was truly feeling.

As a former Police Officer I can say: we work hard at meticulously building walls and putting up protective barriers to protect ourselves from emotions and feelings. The myth is that having emotions and feelings is a detriment to doing the job.

What I was discovering while preparing those remarks was that maybe I did have some emotions and feelings. That maybe over the years some cracks had developed in those walls…

At that House Meeting I started my remarks with what I had said to Ian:

You should know I am a gun owner;

I have a CCW Permit;

And I occasionally carry a gun when traveling throughout the State of Oklahoma.

And then I went on to share some of my experience:

In 1979, one of my best friends and fellow Police Officer, Don Reed, agreed to swap shifts with me so I could have a weekend off to of all things, play in a Police Softball Tournament. During that shift, Don responded to a call at a local bar where he confronted a man who was later determined to be a convicted felon, recently released from prison, and who had recently purchased several guns. As Don was escorting the man out of the bar with other officers, the man took a semi-automatic handgun out from under his coat and shot Don several times in the chest. Don died at the scene… The suspect eluded police for several days, but was eventually captured, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.

In 1982, as the lead investigator working on a Crime Task Force I was assigned the case of a prison escapee who was a serial rapist. The suspect was reportedly responsible for more than 20 brutal rapes, usually pistol whipping his victims in the two weeks following his escape. Early on a Sunday morning I received a tip from an informant that the suspect was heading to the Santa Ana area of Orange County. Staking out the area with other officers, the suspect appeared in the stolen vehicle of his most recent victim. A pursuit ensued with the suspect losing control of his vehicle and crashing into a telephone pole. The suspect exited his vehicle and in an exchange of gun fire, he was shot and killed.

In 1991, a couple of days before I was to leave the Police Department for seminary, I was dispatched to a Check the Welfare call. Family members had been unable to contact a brother who had been suffering from depression. Getting no response from knocks on the door, we checked and found the front door of the residence unlocked. Upon opening the door the man appeared directly in front of me with a rifle pointed at my head. The man pulled the trigger but the gun misfired. The man was subsequently arrested and taken for a psychiatric evaluation. It was later determined he had been suffering from Mental Illness for years, yet was still able to purchase a gun.

As I made these remarks to my fellow Bishops, a flood of emotions began to well up within me and I came face to face with my reality: I live everyday knowing that I share responsibility for the taking a human life; and but for the Grace of God I would not be standing here today.

These incidents, the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and all the other incidents of violence, and hatred, and intolerance, and death seem to collide within me; and I was left wondering how we got here. What have we as a people done or failed to do that causes someone to think that their only option is to act out in some violent way?

And then there was this question: “What are you going to do about it?”

For years these tragedies have been occurring, and while there may have been momentary calls for changes in laws or political rhetoric, what seems to be happening is that our world, our society; our communities are willing to accept this as the new norm. That we should all just get used to it because it is going to happen again and again and again….

(After that House Meeting, I decided) I am not willing to accept that… I refuse to feel powerless; that I cannot make a difference; or have an influence.

I refuse because I know better… I refuse because I have seen lives changed and relationships restored…

I have seen youth who have felt outcast and lonely and unworthy come to know that they are beloved children of God, cared for, and respected, and valued…

I have seen teenagers and young adults caught in the vicious cycles of life given a new sense of purpose….

I have seen adults incarcerated for the mistakes they made renewed, reconciled and restored…

I have seen how the faces of the homeless light up when they are treated with dignity and respect…

I am not willing to accept that we are destined to suffer the tragedies that have plagued our society.

Instead I am convinced that we can change judgmental attitudes, intolerant behaviors, and the violence in our society…

Each and every one of us has the power to make a difference. We do it by Proclaiming by Word and Example the Good News of God in Christ. We do it by seeking and serving Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We do it by striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.

These words may sound familiar. They should. They are the foundations of our Baptismal Covenant.

You see, we don’t have to figure out what to do; we just have to do that which we have already promised…

Each and every one of us here has the ability to make a difference; one person, one life at a time; And the time is now…

We didn’t get to where we are today overnight, or in a year or even a decade. It has taken generations.

And there are those who would say, we’re not going to change it overnight or in a year or in a decade. It is going to take generations. But there was a Jewish Philosopher who once said in the first century: If not now, when? And if not me, Who?

It is time that we as people of faith stand up and proclaim something new to this hurt and broken and violent world.

It is time that we as people of faith reclaim that which we have been blessed and given.

It is time that we begin a new conversation and that our voices instill a new mantra in the world: That all are created in the image of God; that all are children of God, and all deserve respect and dignity.

My hope is that this conference might be a model, an example to others of how differing voices, with often very opposite passions, can come together with honesty, charity, and grace for a common purpose.

As we go about our time together over these next couple of days, let’s keep in our hearts and minds all those who have been victims of violence, especially those who suffered that attack of this morning.

May God bless our time together, and may God make us instruments of His peace!