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Juan David Alvarado elected bishop of El Salvador

ENS Headlines - Monday, August 25, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other candidates were:

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

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

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

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

West Texas announces six ‘potential’ coadjutor nominees

ENS Headlines - Monday, August 25, 2014

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

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

The potential nominees are:

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

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

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

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

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

Congo Anglicans re-elect Henri Isingoma as Primate

ENS Headlines - Monday, August 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting Liberian church’s Ebola response

ENS Headlines - Friday, August 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In correspondence with Episcopal News Service, the Most Rev. Jonathan B.B. Hart, Archbishop of Liberia, stated that people are struggling with conflicting desires to care for their sick family members and prepare the bodies of those who have died with the necessity of not coming in contact with the bodily fluids through which Ebola, a hemorrhagic virus, spreads.

He said that he and other clergy and government leaders are urging people to set up hand-washing stations and to wash their hands frequently in chlorine-treated water.

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

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

Church sees imperative role in racial justice, reconciliation

ENS Headlines - Thursday, August 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP: Retired Western Massachusetts Bishop Andrew Wissemann

ENS Headlines - Thursday, August 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENS Headlines - Thursday, August 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episcopal Relief & Development reaffirms support for Gaza hospital

ENS Headlines - Thursday, August 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WCC expresses solidarity with churches, people in Ferguson shooting

ENS Headlines - Thursday, August 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WCC member churches in the United States of America

Virginia bishop writes to diocese on same-sex marriage

ENS Headlines - Thursday, August 21, 2014

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

Dear Diocesan Family,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faithfully,

The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston

2 Episcopal priests among El Salvador bishop nominees

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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

The five nominees are:

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

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

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

West Africa archbishop urges Anglicans to pray for Ebola crisis

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oran en Liberia porque ‘el ébola pase’

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lamento profundamente no haberlo hecho”, escribió él.

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

El arzobispo liberiano Jonathan Bau-Bau Bonaparte Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Las muertes del ébola aumentan a través del África Occidental

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renewed support for relief efforts in Syria

ENS Headlines - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear my people’s cry for peace

ENS Headlines - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We mourn for the persecuted Christians in Iraq and elsewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCC statement regarding the death of Michael Brown

ENS Headlines - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responding ecumenically to crisis in Iraq

ENS Headlines - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applications accepted for Episcopal Church delegates at 2015 United Nations meeting

ENS Headlines - Monday, August 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application is available here. Deadline is September 15.

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

Praying ‘that this Ebola passes over’ in Liberia

ENS Headlines - Monday, August 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberian Archbishop Jonathan Bau-Bau Bonaparte Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Seabury Church in Groton sold to Baptist congregation

ENS Headlines - Monday, August 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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