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Pass the syrup — it’s Shrove Tuesday

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 11:38am

Shrove Tuesday is a day of indulging in the rich, fatty foods that were traditionally abstained from during Lent. Making pancakes was a way to use up butter, milk, sugar and eggs before the 40-day fast. Photo: Natalia Van Doninck/Shutterstock

[Anglican Journal] 

What is Shrove Tuesday?

Celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday (also called “Pancake Tuesday” or “Pancake Day”) is the final day before the 40-day period of Lent begins. This year it falls on Feb. 13.

Its name comes from the Germanic-Old English word “shrive,” meaning absolve, and it is the last day of the liturgical season historically known as Shrovetide. Because it comes directly before Lent, a season of fasting and penitence, this was the day that Christians would go to be “shriven” by their confessor.

Shrove Tuesday also became a day for pre-fasting indulgence. In particular, the need to use up rich ingredients such as butter, milk, sugar and eggs before Lent gave rise to the tradition of eating pancakes on this day.

There are even historical references to a “pancake bell” in English towns being rung around 11 a.m. on this day to signal that it was time to get frying.

For Anglican churches across Canada, Shrove Tuesday means gathering for a pancake supper. Many churches host dinners or luncheons, serving pancakes usually with a range of toppings, fruit and sides like bacon or sausages. Visitors are usually asked to give a small contribution or freewill offering.

Among the creative crepe events this year is a joint Anglican and United Church hosted pancake supper at the Territory of the People’s St. Peter’s Anglican Church, in Williams Lake, B.C. Christ Church, Scarborough, in the Diocese of Toronto, will be holding a pancake and samosa supper, and Christ Church in Stouffville, Ontario, will take a cue from New Orleans with a pancake dinner set to the tunes of live jazz.

In Madeira, Portugal and Hawaii, malasadas
— doughnut-like, sugar-coated confections — are eaten the day before Ash Wednesday. Photo: Bonchan/Shutterstock

Feasts and fests around the world

While in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, pancakes are traditionally eaten, other countries across the globe celebrate with different dishes.

In Spain, the day is named día de la tortilla, or “omelette day,” and the traditional food is an omelette made with sausage or pork fat. In Madeira, Portugal and Hawaii, malasadas —doughnut-like, sugar-coated confections — are eaten.

In Iceland, people traditionally gorge on salted meat and peas on the day illustratively called Sprengidagur (“Bursting Day”). Green pea soup and a whipped-cream-filled pastry are the orders of the day in Finland and Estonia.

Louisiana famously celebrates Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) on this day, a carnival that includes a giant parade through the city. Other countries, including Brazil, Belgium, the Cayman Islands, France, Russia and Ukraine, hold Mardi Gras celebrations with carnivals and festivals.

Lord Redesdale and British MP Tracey Crouch at the 2012 Parliamentary Pancake Race outside the House of Parliament. Photo: Padmayogini/Shutterstock

Pancake parties

In Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island, an added tradition sees small items baked into the pancakes that are served on Shrove Tuesday. These objects have symbolic value: “a coin means the person finding it will be rich; a pencil stub means he/she will be a teacher; a holy medal means they will join a religious order; a nail that they will be (or marry) a carpenter, and so on,” according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website.

Many towns and villages throughout the United Kingdom celebrate with pancake races, in which runners with frying pans — and often wearing aprons or chefs’ hats — race while tossing and catching a pancake. In London, the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race takes place every year, with members of Parliament, Lords and members of the press picking up frying pans and competing to raise money for charity.

— Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

Archbishop of Cape Town marks anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s first speech as a free man

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 11:21am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The spot at Bishopscourt – the official residence of the archbishops of Cape Town – where Nelson Mandela first addressed the world’s media as a free man, has been marked with a commemorative plaque. Mandela was released from prison after 27 years of captivity Feb. 11, 1990. He spent his first night as a free man as a guest of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Bishopscourt and gave his first press conference the following day from a terrace in front of the house. On Tuesday, the 28th anniversary of that press conference, the current archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, unveiled the plaque marking this historic spot.

Read the entire article here.

Archbishop condemns child ‘witchcraft’ murders as ‘child abuse in its worst form’

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 11:16am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The primate of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, Archbishop Allan Migi, has spoken out against the increasing number of alleged witches and sorcerers being killed. He said that the recent killing of a child suspected of being a witch was “strongly opposed to the way of Christ,” describing it as “child abuse in its worst form.” He said: “We strongly call for such practices to cease.”

Read the entire article here.

Church aids relief effort after 6.4 magnitude earthquake strikes Taiwan’s Hualien county

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 2:42pm

[Anglican Communion News Service]  Rescue efforts following the magnitude 6.4 earthquake which struck the eastern Taiwanese county of Hualien last week have been called off, with a confirmed death toll of 17. A further 291 have been injured and many hundreds have been evacuated from their homes. Four high-rise buildings have collapsed and there has been “much damage to local infrastructure and buildings,”  Episcopal Church Bishop of Taiwan David Lai has said. St Luke’s Church in Hualien suffered damaged – including the destruction of its glass altar table. The church, like many in Taiwan, is at the base of a high-building with apartments above it. It is not one of those to have suffered structural damage.

Read the entire article here.

Atlanta bishop rallies opposition to death penalty with book of articles by faith, legal leaders

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 10:21am

Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright, center, joins an anti-death penalty demonstration in 2014 outside the prison in Jackson, Georgia, where state executions are carried out. Photo: Diocese of Atlanta.

[Episcopal News Service] The death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. Since then, 1,468 convicts have been executed across the country.

And, according to records kept by the Death Penalty Information Center, more than 80 percent of those executions have been carried out in the South, which Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright sees as a “terribly irony” for a region known as the Bible Belt.

“People want the love of Jesus for themselves, in terms of redemption, but they want the Old Testament ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ for the people who do these terrible murders,” Wright told Episcopal News Service. “Do we serve a God who can have compassion for the victim and the perpetrator?”

For Wright, the answer is an unequivocal “yes,” and he is heartened by the Episcopal Church’s decades of speaking out against the death penalty while also providing pastoral care to victims’ families.

The Supreme Court’s 1976 decision outlined how states can craft constitutional death penalty laws. Thirty-one states have such laws, and eight of those states carried out executions in 2017, including one in Wright’s state of Georgia. In an effort to renew public attention to the issue and encourage greater advocacy toward abolishing the death penalty, Wright has collected five articles by faith and legal leaders in a book to be released Feb. 15 by the Diocese of Atlanta.

“A Case for Life: Justice Mercy, and the Death Penalty” includes the story of Wright’s growing advocacy since 2012, when he became bishop of a diocese that includes the prison in Jackson, Georgia, where death row inmates are held and executed. He last visited the inmates Feb. 7 as he does every few months, praying with them and sharing the Eucharist.

He also has joined vigils outside the prison when executions have been carried out.

“Serving as a pastor demands that I resist the temptation to engage in denial and euphemism because issues are hard or that people have differing opinions about a matter,” Wright writes. “That said, we can believe anything we choose to believe about capital punishment but you can’t make Jesus a proponent.”

Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas also wrote an article for the book, about the murder of an Episcopal priest in his diocese by the priest’s son. Texas has executed 548 people since 1976, five times more than any other state. But the priest’s son was not among them, receiving instead a life sentence with the support of members of the local faith community.

“They chose to bear out a different witness over and against the prevailing world’s values of violence and retributive justice,” Doyle writes.

The other authors are a retired Georgia Supreme Court justice, a human rights lawyer who has argued and won three death penalty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and Susan Casey, an Episcopalian and attorney who represented a Georgia woman put to death in 2015.

“I’m against capital punishment because of my faith,” Casey, a member of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, said in an interview with Episcopal News Service. “I don’t believe that any person is beyond redemption. For me, that’s the essence of my faith and my belief.”

Her client, Kelly Gissendaner, was convicted in the murder of her husband. She was having an affair with another man, who received a life sentence for carrying out the murder, but she received the death penalty. Casey said Gissendaner’s faith grew while on death row, and she studied theology while behind bars.

“She came to understand that God’s mercy and forgiveness still were available to her, despite what she had done. Over time, Kelly gained confidence in the strength and magnitude of God’s grace and redemptive power,” Casey says in her article in “A Case for Life.”

Casey represented Gissendaner for 14 years, until her execution on Sept. 30, 2015. Since then, much of Casey’s work as an attorney has focused on what is called restorative justice, which seeks to support the victims of crimes and their families while helping convicts find their way to redemption.

Gissendaner’s children were ages 12, 7 and 5 at the time of their father’s murder. In adulthood, they shunned their mother, but over time Gissendaner was able to reconcile with each of them, to the point that they became advocates for her in trying to stop her execution.

Casey alludes to that process in describing her emotions at witnessing Gissendaner’s final moments alive.

“The children who had chosen love and forgiveness over hatred and anger were made to swallow the bitter, collective pill of vengeance,” Casey writes. “It was tempting to despair about a society that leaves no room for the power of redemption and justice that is restorative, but I tried to resist.”

Strapped to the execution gurney, Gissendaner sang the hymn “Amazing Grace” as the state took her life.

“She came to understand that God’s mercy and forgiveness still were available to her, despite what she had done,” Casey writes. “Over time, Kelly gained confidence in the strength and magnitude of God’s grace and redemptive power.”

The Episcopal Church has stood against the death penalty since 1958, and General Convention has regularly affirmed that opposition since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. A 2015 resolution is titled simply “Abolish the Death Penalty,” and it encourages bishops in states where the death penalty is legal to “develop a witness to eliminate the death penalty.”

The number of executions each year has gradually declined nationwide since 1999, when 98 people were executed. That number fell to 20 in 2016, but it rose to 23 last year, when the national spotlight focused on Arkansas’ rush to execute eight men on death row before its lethal injection drugs expired.

Episcopalians were among those rallying against those executions in Arkansas, including at prayer vigils at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock. In the end, four of the executions were carried out. The other four were stayed.

The death penalty remains in effect in Arkansas, and 32 people were on the state’s death row last year, among 2,817 nationwide, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

“There is no political will to do anything about this,” Wright said, and yet he sees clear biblical and visceral imperatives for Christians.

“We worship a guy every Sunday who was executed by the state in collusion with different religious people, and here that plays out again,” Wright said.

In Matthew 25, Jesus exalts the act of visiting the prisoner alongside feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. And what do inmates look like when they’re strapped to the execution gurney with their arms out? “Like Jesus on the cross,” Wright said, questioning how such a process can be condoned by a civilized nation.

The concept of “justice” may be “the most tragic lie in all of this,” Wright said. “Vengeance and justice are two different ideas. There’s no justice in this.”

“A Case for Life” is available from The Cathedral of St. Philip Bookstore online at cathedralbookstore.org or by phone at 800-643-7150. A panel discussion and book signing will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 15 at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church in Atlanta. Participants will include some of the collection’s authors, as well as Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

How the new tax laws could affect Episcopal charitable giving

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 5:32pm

Donations come in all forms, starting with what church members place in the offering plate during services. Photo: Getty Images

[Episcopal News Service] “Oh, you can deduct it.”

That saying has reverberated across clothing donation boxes at the Salvation Army to the checks we write to our favorite social causes for the last century. While we give because God calls us to, it doesn’t hurt when there are tax benefits as well.

Charitable giving has long been something we can itemize as a deduction on our annual personal income taxes, a civic duty established in 1913.

The principle may no longer hold true — for all but the wealthiest of Americans, at least.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress in December nearly doubles the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples when they file their 2018 taxes. That could simplify the filing process and benefit many low- and middle-income families, but it will complicate the giving strategies for filers who typically deduct their charitable donations.

Episcopalians involved in fundraising and nonprofit organizations have mixed opinions about what the fallout will be, if any.

Tara Holley

“We fundraisers are very concerned about the new tax laws, as every indication is that nonprofit organizations will be more dependent on the wealthy than ever before,” said Tara Holley, director of development for the Episcopal Church. “We are counting on and dependent on an enlightened 10 percent, as they hold 76 percent of the wealth in our nation.”

But there are always ways to navigate tax laws, and giving habits aren’t cut and dry.

Rick Felton is not so worried. He’s the executive director of the Episcopal Network of Stewardship, a network of leaders, churches and dioceses devoted to building healthier giving cultures for greater ministry impact.

“Being able to deduct is just a little gravy on top of giving to something you support. There’s just a little less gravy now. I don’t think giving will be affected by the tax law,” Felton said.

Rick Felton

The standard deduction, the amount taxpayers can subtract from their taxable income instead of listing or itemizing deductions on their tax returns, was created to simplify taxes.

About 30 percent of American households itemize their deductions, according to the Tax Foundation. Higher-income taxpayers are much more likely to itemize: Almost 80 percent of those earning more than $100,000 a year choose to itemize their deductions. That percentage rises to 94 for taxpayers with an annual income over $200,000.

Will the law help or hurt Episcopal Church ministries?

Jim Murphy, director of endowment management, planned giving and donor solutions at the Episcopal Church Foundation, doesn’t think parishes or Episcopal charities will be affected much either way.

Murphy expects most lower- and middle-income people to continue to give at their near-previous levels because tax deductibility is a minor issue for most who give to religious institutions and causes. “Some higher-income people may actually give more over time as more income may be available for giving and not paid in taxes,” Murphy said.

Jim Loduha, senior director of development and giving at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California, disagrees. “Charitable giving is going to go down. The question is how much,” Loduha said.

Despite altruism being a hallmark of the religious-giving culture, the predicted 25-percent drop in itemizing taxpayers could mean charitable giving will decline by nearly $13 billion annually, as millions of taxpayers will see no tax benefit for their generous contributions in 2018, he wrote in a Dec. 19 letter to the congregation. Loduha cited research published in May 2017 by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

“Beyond the financial impact that will have on organizations, an estimated 250,000 nonprofit jobs may be at risk, which drastically reduces the capacity those organizations have to carry out their mission to their communities,” he told Episcopal News Service. “All Saints Church is not immune from this, and pledgers at every level will be impacted.”

Giving based on income bracket

Loduha agreed with Murphy that major donors will probably still itemize their gifts, and they’ll save more money on their taxes, so there’s an opportunity to increase their giving.

The real challenge is for the mid-range gifts of $1,000 to $10,000, Loduha said. Most donors in that range did have the incentive, in part, of a tax benefit before the new tax law. And now they won’t, he said.

The Rev. Shay Craig, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago’s associate for resource development, doesn’t think it matters.

“I’m a single mother, and my taxes are going up. That won’t change what I give to my church. It’s still my discipline. It will mean reorganizing things, sure,” Craig said.

Gifts from high net-worth folks are almost always combined with some tax plan anyway, said Jim Simon, who sits on the boards of several nonprofit organizations and is chairman of the stewardship and finance committee at his parish, Church of Our Savior in Akron, Ohio. He also will chair the House of Deputies Legislative Committee on Constitution and Canons at General Convention.

“That’s a fact of life when you’re dealing with high net-worth individuals. There’s generally some review of tax considerations for giving. That existed before this tax law. That’s going to exist after this tax law,” Simon said. “I don’t think this is going to affect what’s put in the plates on Sundays.”

Besides doing the fundraising for the Chicago diocesan episcopacy and offices, Craig also teaches congregations about stewardships, planned and annual giving, as well as capital campaigns.

She’s heard the concerns of parishioners, but isn’t worried about a significant drop in giving overall. “Changes in the tax code don’t change the gift itself, just the timing,” Craig said.

The December rush

Some organizations saw a giving uptick in December, more so than the usual end-of-year boon.

Loduha saw a 40 percent increase in year-end giving at his Pasadena church, in part because some people wanted to maximize their 2017 tax benefit ahead of the coming changes. Loduha suggested in his letter to the Pasadena parish that those who typically itemize deductions “accelerate” their contributions by 2017’s end to get a larger income tax deduction. Some people pre-paid a part, or all, of their 2018 donation to get the maximum tax benefit over the two years.

There are so many more ways to give than writing a check. Photo: Getty Images

Murphy noticed an uptick at the end of 2017 too. It came in a spike at year’s end for gifts of cash and securities to create life-income gifts like charitable gift annuities, as well as gifts to endowment accounts which the foundation manages for parishes, dioceses and other Episcopal entities across the country. More people, Murphy included, also created donor-advised funds.

In Chicago, Craig noticed a 2 or 3 percent uptick in year-end giving in the diocese, while Jim Simon did not see accelerated giving at the end of 2017 at his Ohio church, or pre-paying 2018 pledges in order to accomplish tax savings.

Why people give

Most people donate to their parishes or Episcopal-related charities without motivations of tax benefit, Simon said.

“They do so because of their passion or their parish’s mission. Do they take advantage of the tax benefits? Absolutely,” Simon said. “But I do not believe people will give less because they may not save money in tax. That does not mean they may not make a gift in a slightly different way.”

Religious organizations have long received the largest share of American charitable giving. They received 32 percent of all charitable donations in 2016, according to the most recent estimates from Giving USA 2017.

“I maintain that people give to churches for a different reason, and that reason is more tax-code proof than others,” Craig said.

People respond where there’s a need and a connection, Felton said. Church leaders and fundraisers should appeal to their congregation and donors to think less about the tax benefits and more about the mission when deciding how to give.

“Of all nonprofit institutions, the church needs to be the one talking about the spirituality of giving, to lift up generosity as a response to God’s impact in our lives,” Felton said. “It’s a divine calling, not about dialing for dollars. Really, it’s not about meeting the church budget; it’s about giving generously as God as has been generous with us.”


For church leaders in charge of fundraising, focus on the mission, said Murphy.

“People love their own parish and want to support it along with other charities, but those who demonstrate accountability and transparency to their constituents, in addition to showing the impact of their mission to make their community and world a better place, will gather more gifts,” he said.

The new tax law actually enhanced the tax deduction for some donors in some specific ways, Murphy said.

  • The Pease Amendment, which previously reduced the benefits of itemizing charitable gifts for high-income individuals, was repealed.
  • The annual Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limitation of 50 percent was raised to 60 percent for gifts of cash.
  • Qualified charitable distributionsfrom Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) were not impacted by the tax changes and remain a great way for those older than 70 ½ to make gifts directly to charities from their IRAs while not increasing their taxable income.
  • Donor-advised fund, such as the Episcopal Church Foundation’s fund, is a good vehicle to help those who wish to “bunch” their donations while still continuing to support all of their favorite Episcopal Church charities in the future.

“As human beings, Christians and Episcopalians, we encourage everyone to give at any level, as it is giving itself that enriches our lives and makes us whole,” said Holley, the Episcopal Church’s director of development. “Giving of goods, money, service, affection an open heart … these are all ways to give and serve others.

“At the same time, we hope that those with the greatest capacity to make financial commitment to those in need will increase their giving as this climate has a serious impact on those with the greatest needs.”

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— Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She can be reached at amysowderepiscopalnews@gmail.com



Retired Bishop Robert Ihloff called as bishop associate for Diocese of Virginia

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 2:45pm

[Diocese of Virginia] The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston is pleased to announce his appointment of the Rt. Rev. Robert Ihloff as bishop associate in the Diocese of Virginia. Bishop Ihloff served as the bishop of the Diocese of Maryland from 1995 until his retirement in 2007. He will provide key support to the Diocese of Virginia during the transition between Bishop Ted Gulick’s retirement at the end of 2017 and the election of a second bishop suffragan later this year. Read full bio.

“I have long admired Bishop Ihloff’s work in the Diocese of Maryland and in the broader Church,” said Bishop Johnston, “and I know how valuable his skills and gifts will be to our diocese during this time of transition. Bob is both a strong leader and a model of humility. Also, he is a compelling combination of optimism and straight-talk, in which each of those qualities is strengthened by the other one. He is eager to get started, and I am eager to welcome him.”

Like Bishop Gulick, Bishop Ihloff (pronounced Ee-loff) will work out of the diocesan office in Northern Virginia. He will make Sunday visitations and provide support to clergy and congregations across the diocese.

“Because my favorite ministries are preaching, teaching and working with parishes on issues of mission and congregational development, and because I find it humbling and exciting to work with clergy on discerning their roles in ministry, I am excited about assisting as a bishop in Virginia,” said Bishop Ihloff. “Virginia is a very healthy diocese with fine leadership.  Over my years in neighboring Maryland, I have come to appreciate the ways in which the Diocese of Virginia models mission and ministry, and I feel privileged to share a small role in that ministry as your bishop associate.”

Bishop Ihloff’s first day on the job is March 11. Please join Bishop Shannon in welcoming him to the Diocese of Virginia.

Justin Welby calls for greater Anglican Communion say in selection of successor

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 1:40pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The primates of the Anglican Communion should have a greater say in the appointments of future archbishops of Canterbury, the current archbishop, Justin Welby, said Feb. 8. Welby made his comments during a debate at the Church of England’s General Synod on the working of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) – the body that recommends appointments to diocesan bishoprics. Appointments of bishops in the Church of England are made by the Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church, who acts on the advice of the CNC.

Read the entire article here.

Church of England debates ‘reconciliation of presbyteral ministries’ with Methodist Church

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 1:37pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Proposals to “enable an interchange of presbyteral ministries” between the Church of England and the Methodist Church in Britain will be debated by the C of E’s General Synod Feb. 9. The synod is being asked to endorse further work on the proposals, which failed to reach unanimous support when they were debated by the House of Bishops. The Methodist Church grew as a separate denomination following splits from the Church of England in the late 18th century. There have been numerous proposals for closer communion between the two churches, but the sticking point continues to be the issue of ordination and the historic episcopate.

Read the entire article here.

Editor’s note: Over the next two years, the governing bodies of the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church are due to consider a proposal for full communion between the two denominations.

Anglican leaders echo Pope Francis’ call for day of prayer and fasting for peace

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 1:31pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Senior Anglican leaders have endorsed Pope Francis’ call for an ecumenical day of prayer and fasting for peace, with a particular focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Pope Francis made his call on Feb. 4 in his traditional Angelus address to crowds in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican. It has now been endorsed by the acting primate of the Anglican Church of South Sudan, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, and the deputy director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Read the entire article here.

Diocese of Bethlehem Names Two Priests to Stand for Election as Ninth Bishop

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:41pm

[Diocese of Bethlehem] The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem today released the names of two priests who will stand for election for the ninth bishop of the diocese.

The Rev. Kevin Nichols

The Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

They are the Rev. Canon Kevin D. Nichols, 56, chief operating officer and canon for mission resources in the Diocese of New Hampshire, and the Rev. Canon Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, 55, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Colorado. The search committee had chosen three nominees, but one withdrew shortly before the slate was presented to the Standing Committee, which oversees the election.

Nominees may be added to the slate through a petition process that opens today and closes on February 15. Public gatherings known as “walkabouts” will be held around the diocese, April 17-20, to give local Episcopalians an opportunity to meet the nominees. The election will be held at the Cathedral of the Nativity on April 28.

“We’re very excited to have such highly-qualified nominees,” said the Rev. J. Douglas Moyer, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Stroudsburg, who chairs the Standing Committee. “Kevin and Ruth are people of deep faith and spirituality, and we have been moved by how both integrate their faith with their everyday lives. They also have experience working at the highest levels of their dioceses and extensive networks they can call upon thanks to their service to the wider Episcopal Church.”

Learn more about the nominees at the search committee’s website.

The diocese includes almost 12,000 members in 58 congregations in northeastern Pennsylvania. It has been led for the last four years by the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, who is also the bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Rowe served as bishop provisional during a period of reorganization and renewal as the diocese determined its future.

Diocese’s call for ‘expansive language for God’ sparks debate on gender-neutral Episcopal liturgies

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 1:23pm

The Diocese of Washington holds its 123rd diocesan convention Jan. 27 at Washington National Cathedral. Photo: Diocese of Washington, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] The Diocese of Washington is calling on the Episcopal Church’s General Convention to consider expanding the use of gender-neutral language for God in the Book of Common Prayer, if and when the prayer book is slated for a revision.

He? She? Those pronouns aren’t preferred, the diocese says in a resolution it passed Jan. 27 at its convention, held at Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital city. Instead, the resolution recommends using “expansive language for God from the rich sources of feminine, masculine, and non-binary imagery for God found in Scripture and tradition.”

The diocese’s convention passed two other resolutions, voicing support for immigrants and the transgender community. But it was the call for more inclusive language in the prayer book that drew national attention, especially from conservative-leaning critics.

“What I see is a church that embraces literally any fashionable left-wing cause,” Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, said in a segment Feb. 5 in which he interviewed the Rev. Alex Dyer, one of the resolution’s sponsors.

The Daily Caller, a news website founded by Carlson, reported on the resolution last week, as did Breitbart and The Blaze. Some of the reaction has been “vitriolic,” Washington Bishop Mariann Budde told Episcopal News Service in describing three negative emails she has received. All three emails were written in a similar tone, she said, describing her diocese alternately as aligned with Satan and at war with God.

“It’s clear they didn’t read the resolution,” Budde said.

The resolution’s push for more gender-inclusive language grew out of conversations around the diocese in congregations where topics of gender and transgender equality have resonated among the parishioners, Budde said. She sees it as a spiritual matter, not a cultural or political issue.

That view was shared by Dyer, priest-in-charge at St. Thomas’ Parish in Washington, D.C. He responded in the TV interview that the diocese had based its decision on prayer and discernment, not politics – and a belief in “a Jesus who calls us to reach out to people on the margins and to reach out to everyone.”

The resolution is worded to influence future revisions of the prayer book, understanding God as a higher being who transcends gender. It doesn’t mandate the elimination of gender-specific references to God, Budde said, despite what some reports suggest.

“I don’t believe that the way we understand gender is applicable when we imagine who created Heaven and Earth,” Budde said. At the same time, the diocese’s emphasis is on expanding the church’s liturgies rather than eliminating masculine descriptions of God, such as God the father.

“I’m all for expanding our understanding of God and how we pray to God, but I feel no need to take anything away,” she said.

The difficulty in describing God may reside in language itself.

“No language can adequately contain the complexity of the divine, and yet it is all we have to try to explain God,” the diocese said in an explanation of the resolution contained in the convention materials. “By expanding our language for God, we will expand our image of God and the nature of God.”

The Episcopal Church is not the only Christian denomination grappling with the inadequacy of language to explain God. The Roman Catholic Church’s Catechism, for example, discusses references to God as “Father” while also noting that the image of motherhood is also appropriate.

“We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God,” the Catechism says.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America addresses the question of gendered language in a 2013 liturgical resource: “Because language is created and used by humans, it reflects the imperfections and limitations of humanness. Therefore, no use of language can ever totally describe or represent God.”

Under “Language Describing God,” the document cites some examples – “eagle,” “rock,” “light,” among others – before offering a caution about pronoun use: “Assigning male pronouns to human occupations (such as judge, teacher, potter, guard) or to objects (fortress, rock, shield) should be avoided when they are used as metaphors for God.”

More recently, the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden announced last year that it would update its liturgical handbook with “more inclusive” gender language. That move sparked some complaints that the church was eliminating masculine references to God, a reaction similar to what the Diocese of Washington now faces.

“We are not going to give up our tradition,” Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackelén told PBS NewsHour. “God is beyond our human categories of gender. … We need help to remind us of that, because due to the restrictions of our brains, we tend to think of God in very human categories. We are not worshipping political correctness. We are worshipping God, the creator of the universe.”

The Episcopal Church, too, has a history of emphasizing inclusiveness.

“This is a conversation that we have been having internally in the Episcopal Church for decades,” the Rev. Emily Wachner, a lecturer in practical theology at General Theological Seminary in New York, told ENS.

Examples of the church’s evolution on gender and power dynamics include the approval of ordination of women in 1976, but it didn’t start or end there, Wachner said. She noted the creation of “Voices Found,” a 2003 supplement to the Hymnal 1982 that featured all women composers.

“I’ve never had a parishioner leave or join the church for concern about gendered language for God,” she said. “At the same time, this entire conversion around God and gender is so important.” In some ways it parallels the secular conversations now underway on gender issues in society, such as sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement, she said.

Of all the work the church could be doing for gender equity – Wachner mentioned disparity in clergy pay as one example – re-examining descriptions of God in Episcopal liturgies may be just one small step. Wachner is particularly supportive of the first half of the Diocese of Washington resolution, calling for “expansive language.”

She was less impressed by the second half of the resolution, which called on prayer book revisions that, “when possible,” would “avoid the use of gendered pronouns for God.” Limiting language seems counter to the intent of the resolution, she said.

“I believe the real conversation we should be having is around the vitality of the church itself,” Wachner said. “I’m not sure God’s pronouns are a vital part of that conversation.”

The Diocese of Washington also has received attention for its resolution on immigration, which committed it to “becoming a sanctuary diocese” and “offering sacred welcome to immigrants.” Certain congregations in the diocese already have offered sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation, Budde said, and this was a chance for the diocese to show its support for those efforts.

The same was true of the third resolution, “on inclusion of transgendered people.” Budde said the diocese wanted to stand with congregations that have been at the forefront of welcoming transgender people and fighting violence and hatred against them.

The resolution regarding gendered language for God was approved by a hand vote, with a solid majority in favor, though it was not unanimous, Budde said.

“There was very little debate in the convention itself, and I don’t think it’s because they didn’t want to have the conversation,” she said. If Episcopalians didn’t feel comfortable debating the question on the convention floor, she would welcome such conversations in other settings.

She also underscored the imperfection of language and the ways that our understanding of language can change over time. “Mankind” once was an accepted catch-all term for men and women. “There wasn’t really much debate about that, until there was a lot of debate about that,” she said, and now it is more common to hear inclusive terms like “humankind.”

Her hope is that someday the church will be so confident in welcoming all people that such debates will no longer be necessary. Episcopalians may each see the world differently, she said, but they share a spiritual common ground, “that we’re part of a family trying to be true to the Gospel imperative to love your neighbor.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Anglican mission agency USPG appoints London college leader as new chair

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 1:04pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] John Neilson, the secretary of Imperial College London, has been appointed as the next chair of trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG. He will succeed Chris Chivers, the principal of Westcott House Cambridge, whose six-year term will finish in July. “There is a big challenge to communicate the vision and purpose of a twenty-first century mission agency more widely, particularly in parishes,” Neilson said.

Read the full article here.

Joanna Udal honored for service to Anglican Communion

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 1:00pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Rev.  Joanna Udal, former secretary for Anglican Communion Affairs for the Archbishops of Canterbury, has been awarded the Cross of St. Augustine for services to the Anglican Communion by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Udal served both Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Willams and Welby, before stepping down in 2014. The award was in recognition of her “unparalleled service to the Anglican Communion.”

Read the full article here.

Newly appointed Anglican bishops attend induction week at Canterbury Cathedral

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 12:23pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A group of 33 recently appointed bishops are spending a week at Canterbury Cathedral – the Anglican Communion’s mother church – as part of a global induction program. They are taking part in the new bishops’ course, which happens every February. It provides an opportunity for newly appointed bishops from around the world to meet each other for fellowship, prayer and learning. Today they are in London, visiting the Anglican Communion Office in Notting Hill, and then Lambeth Palace, the London home and offices of the archbishop of Canterbury.

Read the entire article here.

Good Book Club among diverse Lenten tools offered by the Episcopal Church

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 5:18pm

A worshiper receives ashes at St. Bart’s in New York City. Photo: Episcopal Church submission

[Episcopal News Service] Instead of seeing this Lenten season as a time to do without, you can approach it from a more plentiful perspective: an opportunity to grow closer to Jesus, with more resources than ever.

That’s how Presiding Bishop Michael Curry sees it. Lent can be a chance to deepen your intimacy with Christ, he said in a video about helpful Lenten tools, including the Good Book Club.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on Feb. 14 this year – coinciding with Valentine’s Day – and it lasts through Thursday, March 29, when the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday begins.

Typically, Lent involves fasting and abstinence of some sort, inspired by the 40 days and nights Jesus fasted in the wilderness, according to several Bible passages, including Luke 4:1-13. Christians are invited “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word,” according to page 265 of the Book of Common Prayer.

There are more ways than ever to accomplish these aspirations.

For the first time, Forward Movement presents the Good Book Club to the Episcopal Church and other interested people as a comprehensive resource to observe Lent. The program is a partnership with more than 25 organizations in the church, Richelle Thompson told Episcopal News Service. She’s the Forward Movement deputy director and managing editor.

“One of the reasons we tried to build this is because in one way, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure; we have resources from so many different organizations,” Thompson said. “We really tried to add a lot of variety so people can find what best suits their needs, and so they can find it the way God is calling them to engage in scripture.”

The Good Book Club begins Feb. 11, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, and continues through Pentecost, May 20. Forward Movement has created a set of daily readings to divide Luke and Acts into 50 days each. Each day, participants will read a few verses of Luke through the end of March and then Acts beginning on Easter Sunday and running through May 20.

The club features everything from a podcast from Episcopal Migration Ministries to a downloadable booklet to encourage a spirit of gratitude created by United Thank Offering. Parents will find tools to engage their children. A Good Book Club app for iPhones and Android phones has daily readings, a coloring page and a journal for those on the go.

There’s a good reason to study Luke and Acts together.

“Scholars tell us that the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are part 1 and part 2 of the same story, probably by the same author,” Curry said in his video on the Good Book Club.

Luke tells about Jesus while he lived among us, and Acts describes what his followers did afterward, as they put his teachings into action, Curry said.

“Reading scripture individually and collectively can change our spiritual life,” Thompson said. She laughed. “And only God knows how we will be all changed by the end of this.”

Other resources include:

  • “Set Free by Truth”: The ecumenical Lent devotions begin with Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, and continue through Easter Sunday, April 1. Each segment of “Set Free by Truth” presents scripture citations, a reflection and a prayer. The book is available for free downloading here.
  • Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday: Falling on Feb. 18 this year, this church-wide tradition is marked with special prayers, materials and a dedicated offering to support the organization’s worldwide programs. Special resources and a planning guide for Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday are available at on the organization’s Sunday page. Churches can download copies Episcopal Relief & Development’s 2018 Lenten Meditations booklets in English and Spanish by visiting the organization’s Lent page here.
  • Lent Madness: The Rev. Tim Schenck created this ministry in 2010 to combine his love of sports with his passion for the lives of saints. It’s a fun way for people to learn about the Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Saints. The program starts with 32 saints placed into a tournament-like, single-elimination bracket. At the championship, the winner is awarded the coveted Golden Halo. The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Subsequent rounds include quotes, quirks, legends and more saintly kitsch. Learn more at Lent Madness here.
  • Art Stations of the Cross: Feb.14-April 1, visit the 14 stations for reflection, worship services and discussions in New York. Learn more at Art Stations here.
  • Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John: A six-week study of the gospel of John starting Feb. 11 is available, including a downloadable journal and facilitation guidance for groups. Learn more from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist here.

For more Lenten tools and resources, visit here.

Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She can be reached at amysowderepiscopalnews@gmail.com.

Latin America bishops call on US to ‘love the stranger’ in statement on immigration policies

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 5:03pm

[Episcopal News Service] Anglican and Episcopal bishops from six Latin American countries met in El Salvador last week to discuss what they warned were “anti-migrant, racist and discriminatory policies adopted by the United States’ authorities,” according to a joint statement released after the meeting.

The statement was signed by Bishop Juan David Alvarado, Diocese of El Salvador; the Most Rev. Francisco Moreno, Primate of the Province of Mexico; Bishop Lloyd Allen, Diocese of Honduras; Bishop Julio Murray, Diocese of Panamá y Costa Rica; Bishop Philip Wright, Diocese of Belize; Bishop Benito Juárez, Diocese of Southeast Mexico, and Bishop Silvestre Romero
Diocese of Guatemala.

The meeting, Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, focused specifically on the Trump administration’s decisions to terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and the Central American Minors refugee program and to end Temporary Protected Status for some populations, including those from Haiti and El Salvador. Though the bishops’ statement doesn’t reference President Donald Trump by name, it says the bishops have reached out to the president and the U.S. Congress, urging them to follow the biblical command to “love the stranger” as they search for just policies toward migrants.

The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations has information on Temporary Protected Status here and DACA here.

You can read the bishops’ full letter below.

Position of the Diocesan Bishops of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Central America, Belize and Mexico on the termination of the TPS, DACA and CAM programs

The bishops of the Anglican Episcopal Churches of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, North and Southeast Mexico, met in San Salvador, El Salvador, from January 31 to February 2, 2018, to meditate, pray and analyze the evident hardening of the anti-migrant, racist and discriminatory policies adopted by the United States’ authorities, and that are embodied in the termination of the following programs: the Temporary Protected Status (TPS); Central American Minors (CAM) refugee program, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

These policies will affect hundreds of thousands of migrants, for example, people from Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Mexico and other countries.

Faced with this unresolved migration crisis, the diocesan bishops participating in the meeting expressed their position to the administration of the President and to the Congress of the United States of America. Specifically, we urged the search for:

  • humanitarian and fair reception for migrants in the United States,
  • the reasonable opportunity to identify ways to legalize their stay,
  • particularly guarantee mobility and protection for children and adolescents, and
  • protection of family unity.

As previously expressed in the same spirit in the letter issued by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church gathered in Phoenix in 2010:

1. We exhort the authorities of the United States to keep in mind that God has always commanded us to love the stranger: “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34).

2. We pray that the Holy Spirit will touch the hearts and minds of the authorities of the United States of America, so that they understand that migration is to the benefit of everyone.

3. We do not accept the re-victimization of these migrants, who in principle are good people and many have been victims of death threats, of harsh conditions of economic and social vulnerability, while others have been victims of violence from both gangs and agents of the State of their countries of origin.

4. We denounce that ending the adopted migration programs, without a possible alternative solution, violates human dignity and human rights, is discriminatory and racist.

5. We absolutely reject the manipulative assertions of certain politicians pointing to migrants as criminals based solely on their irregular migration status and their belonging to other cultures and races.

6. We ask the political authorities of the United States to refrain from expelling the migrants, since this act would be an affront against God, our churches and divine creation.

7. We give thanks to, and join the struggle of, the Episcopal churches of the United States and other denominations as well as groups of people who defend the human rights of migrants. We invite you to continue working together on regional and interprovincial projects to help resolve the migration crisis.

8. We recognize the support, solidarity and sensitivity of the people of the United States, who have made space in their hearts and consciences for migrants. To these noble and humane people belong the faithful of churches, legislators, senators and politicians sincerely concerned that this situation be regularized, seeking peace and social harmony.

9. We urge our political authorities in Central America, Belize and Mexico to coordinate and work on decent and humane proposals in favor of migrants and then present them in a negotiating dialogue with the United States’ authorities.

10. We demand the political authorities of our countries, regions and the United States, to work together to promote structural changes in their respective countries so that there are conditions of employment, health, education, security, housing, basic services and other conditions so that people abandon the idea of emigrating.

11. In the face of the migration crisis, the united voices of the bishops in this meeting remind all political authorities that it does not matter what was done incorrectly in the past or what was omitted to be done, but how beautiful we can build together hereinafter, cultivating in the present a fraternal dialogue, respectful and dignified among all, to attend to the migratory victims.

12. We must all remember that no one is a migrant, because although we come from one place and go to another, we are always within God’s creation. He has made us stewards of creation so that we live together in harmony, freedom, and with equality for mobility, equity and responsibility.

Finally, we express to our sister and brother migrants: we will continue working for you and we commit ourselves to work in pastoral care for migrants at the local, regional and interprovincial levels.

San Salvador, February 02, 2018.

Global prayer urged as tribal violence claims lives in Congo

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 2:29pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans around the world are being asked to pray for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo as tribal violence continues to claim lives in the Ituri Province in the north-eastern area of the country. The Ituri city of Bunia is home to one of the largest UN peacekeeping forces in Africa as international troops seek to intercede between the warring Lendu and Hema peoples. At the weekend, 26 people were killed when a Hema village 31 miles north of Bunia was attacked by Lendu tribes people. The Rev. Bisoke Balikenga, national youth co-ordinator of the Anglican Church of Congo is urging Anglicans to pray for the country.

Read the full article here.

La Ofrenda del Beato Absalón Jones Asiste a los Institutos y Universidades Episcopales Históricamente Negros

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 2:53pm

En honor a la celebración del Mes de la Historia Negra durante febrero y al Beato Absalón Jones, el primer sacerdote afroamericano en la Iglesia Episcopal, el Obispo Presidente Michael Curry ha pedido mayor comprensión y compromiso con los Institutos y Universidades Históricamente Negros, conocidos como HBCUs.

El Obispo Presidente invita a los episcopales “a profundizar nuestra participación en el ministerio de reconciliación de Cristo dedicando las ofrendas en las celebraciones de las festividades de Absalón Jones para apoyar a los dos Institutos y Universidades Episcopales Históricamente Negros (HBCU) que quedan: La Universidad de San Agustín en Raleigh, Carolina del Norte, y el Instituto Voorhees en Dinamarca, S.C.”

Los dos institutos de educación superior se fundaron a finales del siglo XIX como empresa misionera de la Iglesia Episcopal. “Estas universidades brindan oportunidades educativas, económicas y sociales a comunidades de escasos recursos, y ofrecen muchas bendiciones en la vida de la Iglesia Episcopal”, dijo.

Las donaciones a HBCUs proporcionarán ayuda muy necesaria para ofrecer becas competitivas y ayuda financiera, atraer y retener a profesores excepcionales, apoyar investigación de vanguardia de la facultad, instalar nueva y mejorada tecnología en todo el campus, y proporcionar un aula de última generación y equipo atlético.

“La Iglesia Episcopal estableció e hizo un convenio de por vida con estas universidades, y son una parte esencial del tejido de nuestra vida compartida”, señaló el Obispo Presidente.

Si bien una vez hubo diez universidades episcopales como estas, hoy en día Voorhees y San Agustín son las únicas que quedan.

La Universidad de San Agustín (SAU, por su sigla en inglés) fue fundada en 1867 por la diócesis episcopal de Carolina del Norte. Ubicada en Raleigh, la Universidad de San Agustín cuenta con más de 1.000 estudiantes que buscan completar sus Licenciaturas en Artes o Ciencias, mientras que estudiantes adultos emprenden estudios avanzados en Justicia Penal, Gestión Organizativa y Estudios Religiosos. La misión de la universidad es respaldar una comunidad de aprendizaje en la cual los estudiantes se preparan académica, social y espiritualmente para asumir posiciones de liderazgo en un mundo complejo, diverso y en constante cambio.

El Instituto Voorhes, localizado en Denmark, Carolina del Sur, es un instituto privado históricamente negro que provee licenciaturas en el campo de las Artes Liberales. El Instituto Voorhees fue fundado en 1897 por la joven afroamericana Elizabeth Evelyn Wright como la Escuela Industrial Denmark. La Srta. Wright, que estudio bajo Booker T. Washington, soñaba con lo que parecía entonces un sueño imposible, empezar una escuela para jóvenes afroamericanos en el condado rural de Bamberg en Carolina del Sur.

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Para más información comuníquese con Tara Elgin Holley, directora de Desarrollo de la Iglesia Episcopal a tholley@episcopalchurch.org

Absalón Jones
Absalón Jones es honrado en la Iglesia Episcopal el 13 de febrero. Jones fue un clérigo afroamericano abolicionista, y el primer afroamericano ordenado sacerdote en la Iglesia Episcopal. Absalón Jones nació esclavizado bajo Abrahán Wynkoop en 1746 en Delaware. Jones se mudó a Filadelfia después de que su amo vendió su plantación junto con la madre de Absalón y seis hermanos. Jones compró la libertad de su esposa Mary y más tarde su amo le concedió la emancipación en 1784.

En 1787, junto con su amigo Richard Allen, fundó la Sociedad Africana Libre, una organización benéfica de ayuda mutua que fue la primera de este tipo organizada por y para las personas negras. El obispo William White ordenó diácono a Jones en 1795 y sacerdote el 21 de septiembre de 1802. Jones sirvió fielmente a la gente en la Iglesia Episcopal Africana de Santo Tomás en Filadelfia, una iglesia que sigue siendo una congregación vibrante.

“A medida que nos acercamos a febrero, el recuerdo del Beato Absalón Jones, el primer sacerdote afroamericano en la Iglesia Episcopal, tenemos la oportunidad única de celebrar su memoria y honrar el testimonio de las dos universidades que continúan formando nuevos líderes”, dijo el Obispo Presidente Curry. “En honor al compromiso de Jones de promover la educación de los afroamericanos y promover el desarrollo de líderes afroamericanos en todos los ámbitos de la vida, la Iglesia Episcopal se complace en designar a la Universidad de San Agustín y al Instituto Voorhees como beneficiarios de las ofrendas de las Festividades de Absalón Jones de 2018”.

Los encartes para los boletines están disponibles aquí.

El Obispo Primado visita congregaciones de Houston y ofrece apoyo en medio de las secuelas del huracán Harvey

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 2:44pm

El Obispo primado Michael Curry conversa con el Rdo. Andy Parker, rector de la iglesia episcopal Emanuel en Houston occidental, una iglesia que sufrió grandes daños al paso del huracán Harvey. Foto de Carol Barnwell

[Diócesis Episcopal de Texas] Durante la visita del obispo primado Michael Curry a la Diócesis de Texas los días 30 y 31 de enero, el clero y los miembros de la Iglesia compartieron historias de la épica inundación que trajo consigo el huracán  Harvey.

En algunos lugares, Harvey dejó caer más de 127 centímetros de lluvia durante cuatro días a finales de agosto, y su impacto se dejó sentir a través de 41 condados con medio millón de viviendas afectadas y daños que se calculan en más de $190.000 millones.

La tormenta que causó esa inundación histórica parecía difícil de imaginar esta semana en Houston en que un cielo despejado y temperaturas suaves recibían al Obispo Primado y a su equipo. Curry estaba acompañado por Sharon Jones, su coordinadora ejecutiva; Abigail Nelson, vicepresidente de programas del Fondo Episcopal de Ayuda y Desarrollo y Geoffrey Smith, director de operaciones de la Iglesia Episcopal.

Una vez que retiraron los escombros, las cosas pueden parecer bastante normales, hasta que uno entra en la nave de una iglesia, y mira a través de los travesaños, aulas, oficinas y el salón parroquial que se encuentra más allá y tiene que andar con cuidado para no tropezar con los grandes pernos que sobresalen en el desnudo piso de concreto que alguna vez sostuvieron la baranda del altar. Cinco meses después del Harvey, en muchas iglesias y en miles de casas se sigue percibiendo el hedor de las aguas pútridas que dejó la inundación y el moho sigue buscando un asidero.

La Fundación Episcopal para la Salud [Episcopal Health Foundation] tomó  la pronta decisión de destinar sus recursos a la investigación, le dijo a Curry la presidente y directora ejecutiva Elena Marks en una sesión informativa en la mañana del 30 de enero. La Fundación para la Salud se asoció con la Fundación Kaiser para supervisar la zona afectada y localizar el impacto de la tormenta a fin de mostrar dónde se concentraban los daños y quiénes eran los más afectados.

“No se trata sólo de investigación y mapas”, enfatizó Marks. “Queríamos captar a las comunidades y estamos haciéndoles presentaciones a grupos que realizan labores de socorro con la esperanza de que utilizarán los datos para establecer sus prioridades”.  Los mapas y la investigación resultantes ya han sido consultados más de 30.000 veces.

La investigación revela algunas cosas que merecen mirarse más de cerca. Shao-Chee Sim, vicepresidente de investigación aplicada en la Fundación Episcopal para la Salud, contó que de las 900.000 solicitudes de ayuda que le han presentado a la Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA por su sigla en inglés) la tasa de aprobación para los propietarios de viviendas fue de un 45 por ciento, mientras era del 36 por ciento para los inquilinos. En la lujosa zona Memorial del oeste de Houston, el 66 por ciento de las 2000 solicitudes que se presentaron habían sido aprobadas.

Andy Doyle, el obispo de la Diócesis de Texas, dijo que los datos ayudarán a los episcopales y otras personas a proporcionar un diferente tipo de respuesta al desastre. “Queremos aprovechar la investigación para ayudar a los más vulnerables, para tener un efecto a largo plazo dentro de estas comunidades”, señaló.

Al este de Houston, la zona de Beaumont, Orange y Port Arthur —conocida como el Triángulo de Oro — recibió más de 150 centímetros de lluvia durante el Harvey.

Curry escuchó el relato del Keith Giblin, juez federal y sacerdote episcopal bivocacional, que atiende a San Pablo [St. Paul`s] en Orange, donde el 86 por ciento de las casas quedaron dañadas. Aislado de su congregación durante la tormenta, Giblin navegó en su bote de aluminio por las zanjas de drenaje de Beaumont para rescatar a personas. Él fue uno de los miles de ciudadanos que estuvieron entre los primeros en acudir para dedicar días y noches a buscar a personas atrapadas en ocasiones con el agua al cuello.

“Teníamos que arrastrar los botes en algunos lugares debido a que el agua tenía apenas 33 centímetros de profundidad, y a veces más de un metro”, dijo Giblin. Los autos sumergidos, los enjambres flotantes de hormigas rojas, los cables derribados de la electricidad y las serpientes acuáticas asediaban a los que utilizábamos botes, kayaks y flotadores para rescatar víctimas.

Luego del “caos absoluto” de la inundación, siguió diciendo Giblin, San Pablo, que tenía agua en la iglesia, el salón parroquial y las oficinas, celebró oficios en el patio durante más de un mes. “El servir juntos [durante este desastre] nos acercaría más a todos”, afirmó. “Eso es lo que hacemos, ayudarnos unos a otros”.

Otras iglesias episcopales en Beaumont se convirtieron en centros de distribución de agua y útiles de limpieza. El Rdo. Tony Clark, rector de San Marcos  [St. Mark’s] dijo que después de chequear con la congregación y de ofrecer socorro inmediato a los necesitados, su junta parroquial puso el gimnasio al servicio de la comunidad. “ Éramos un almacén, un hotel y un estacionamiento”, dijo. “ La tienda de segunda mano proporcionó paquetes de socorro. Almacenábamos suministros y albergamos a 75 voluntarios de la Cruz Roja durante varias semanas para que no se fueran a un albergue público”.

El Rdo. Stephen Balke rector de San Esteban [St. Stephen’s] le agradeció a Curry el vídeo que él grabó después de la tormenta para ofrecerles [a las víctimas] oraciones y apoyo. “Nos reunimos para adorar y pusimos su vídeo. No puedo decirle cuánto eso nos reanimó el espíritu”.

La congregación ayudó a más de dos docenas de feligreses cuyas casas se inundaron, y cocinaron para toda la comunidad durante semanas.

“Paramos de contar cuando llegamos a servir a 4.000 personas”, dijo Balke. “Cada vez que nuestros suministros escaseaban, se aparecía otro camión. Fue una gran bendición decir ‘sí’, cuando las personas necesitaban ayuda”.

La Rda. Lacy Largent, a cargo de los equipos de auxilios espirituales, enfatizó que el apoyo que llegó de otras partes fue decisivo. Ella puso el ejemplo de Kate Hello, maestra en Lamay, Misurí, que le envió cartas de sus alumnos.

“Le di una carta a un hombre para que la leyera y se echó a llorar”, dijo Largent. “Me excusé por haberlo perturbado, pero él me dijo. ‘No! Usted me ayudó a llorar. Voy a buscarle a mi esposa, para que usted la ayude a llorar”.

Si bien el trauma de la situación que siguió a las inundaciones puede calar hondo, para muchos se ha acentuado con el paso de los meses. “Nadie tenía seguros contra inundaciones”, dijo Giblin. “Esto nunca había sucedido antes y ahora tenemos ancianos que no pueden recuperarse económicamente. Están usando sus cheque de la Seguridad Social para compras planchas de cartón yeso”.

La Rda. Pat Richie, diácona de San Esteban, dijo que ella está viendo más traumas familiares ahora. La gente —especialmente niños— están experimentando alguna especie de choque postraumático. “Ahora cuando llueve, los niños quieren saber si Harvey va a volver. Es una herida que sigue abierta”.

El proceso de reconstrucción se compara a una maratón más bien que a una carrera corta, y Curry afirmó el apoyo de la Iglesia Episcopal a largo plazo. “Somos corredores de largas distancias”, afirmó.

Durante una escala en La Trinidad [Trinity], en Baytown, el Obispo Primado escuchó testimonios del guardián mayor Robert Jordan y de una pareja que él rescató.

“Estuve durante cinco días en el agua en tareas de búsqueda y rescate”. Dio la casualidad que él estaba cerca del hogar donde habían vivido los miembros de la iglesia Duane y Lois Luallin durante 40 años, cuando se enteró de que la pareja de ancianos necesitaba ayuda.

Duane se había caído y era incapaz de levantarse, y los servicios de emergencia estaban sobrecargados. Jordan llegó en cinco minutos y transportó a los Luallin a un sitio seguro. Los llevó a su casa donde se secaron y les dio de comer y donde se quedaron durante casi un mes hasta que se mudaron a un apartamento.

“¿Cree usted que el Señor nos abandonó? No, él estaba allí con nosotros”, dijo Luallin. “La gente trajo cajas, cosas empacadas, y se llevó las nuestras para enviarlas a la lavandería y a la tintorería. No hubiéramos podido hacer todo por nuestra cuenta”.

Lois Luallin, a la izquierda, le cuenta a  Curry como ella y su marido, Duane, fueron rescatados por Robert Jordan, guardián mayor de la iglesia de La Trinidad, en Baytown, mientras las aguas del huracán Harvey inundaban su casa de 40 años. Foto de Carol Barnwell.

La iglesia de La Trinidad también le sirvió desayuno a los primeros intervinientes y le brindó alimento a toda hora a cualquiera que estuviera hambriento.

“Obispo Curry, puede sentirse alentado de que el Movimiento de Jesús está vivo en La Trinidad”, le dijo la Rda. Micki Ríos, diácona de esa iglesia.

Durante su visita a Texas, Curry y su equipo también se reunieron con clérigos hispanos de la iglesia episcopal de San Mateo en el suroeste de Houston.

El Rdo. Janssen Gutiérrez, rector de San Mateo, acababa de empezar su nuevo trabajo cuando Harvey derribó cuatro de los seis edificios del campus. La congregación de 300 a 400 feligreses estuvo congregándose en tiendas de campaña durante dos meses y actualmente ha visto acrecido su número, dijo Gutiérrez.

Andy Doyle, obispo de la  Diócesis de Texas, a la derecha, observa mientras algunas personas toman fotos con sus celulares del obispo Curry que posa con miembros de la iglesia episcopal de San Mateo. Foto de Carol Barnwell

El Rdo. Pedro López, vicario de la iglesia de San Pedro, en el sureste de Houston, contó que los vecinos ayudaban a los vecinos. “Nos convertimos en distribuidores de alimentos durante casi dos meses”, dijo.  “La iglesia fue fundamental en ayudar a las personas a encontrar lo que necesitaban. Acudieron millares de personas”.

Curry les agradeció a los miembros de la iglesia que hubieran preparado, la segunda mañana de la visita, un abundante desayuno con pupusas,  hojuelas de plátano y frijoles colorados hechos en casa.

Él les recordó que Jesús siempre alimentaba a la gente antes de enseñarles.

“Durante los momentos de prueba, cuando la Iglesia está abierta para ofrecer apoyo, esa es la alimentación de la gente”, dijo. Cuando ayudan a las personas a arreglar sus autos para que puedan ir a trabajar, eso es alimentar a la gente. Gracias por lo que han hecho. Quiero ofrecerles el amor, el afecto y las oraciones de nuestros hermanos y hermanas de la Iglesia Episcopal. Ellos están prestos a unirse a ustedes en el trabajo de la reconstrucción”.

Curry también visitó la iglesia episcopal de Santo Tomás [St. Thomas] en el suroeste de Houston donde el grupo fue amenizado brevemente por varios estudiantes que tocaban gaitas en el patio. La iglesia y la escuela de 600 estudiantes resultó seriamente afectada por las inundaciones por tercera vez en dos años. A resulta de lo cual gran parte de la escuela tiene que ser reconstruida.

El grupo concluyó su recorrido de la zonas afectadas en la iglesia Emanuel [Emmanuel Church], donde fueron recibidos por el rector, Rdo. Andy Parker. El edificio de Emanuel está desnudo luego de que el campus se inundara cuando dejaron salir el agua de los depósitos de reserva en los días siguientes al Harvey. Han removido todo hasta las bases, y también deben reemplazar el revestimiento externo.

Miembros del equipo del obispo primado Michael Curry, personal de la Diócesis de Texas y miembros de la iglesia Emanuel y del templo Sinaí se reúnen para orar al término de la visita pastoral del Obispo Primado a las áreas afectadas por el Harvey. Foto de Carol Barnwell.

La congregación de Emanuel sigue reuniéndose en el vecino templo Sinaí [una sinagoga] donde no pasa inadvertida la sacralidad de colocar el altar temporal encima de la plataforma desde donde se lee la Torá.

“Ha sido una bendición cada semana¨, dijo la rabina Annie Belford, aunque ella reconoce que algunos de los miembros de su congregación se sorprendieron de tener una cruz en su santuario. “La colaboración cariñosa es increíble. Es lo que hacemos por nuestros prójimos”.

La rabina Annie Belford del templo Sinaí, a la izquierda, y el Rdo. Andy Parker, rector de la iglesia episcopal Emanuel en Houston posan con el Obispo Primado durante una visita de Curry a Emanuel. Belford se puso en contacto con Parker inmediatamente después de que Emanuel se inundó  —luego que vaciaran los depósitos de agua de Houston en agosto pasado— para ofrecer un espacio de culto en el templo Sinaí.  Foto de Carol Barnwell.

Esa bendición fluye en ambos sentidos, explicó Belford. “En el curso de todo esto, a mi madre le diagnosticaron cáncer y las mujeres de Emanuel le hicieron una manta de retazos de manera que ella duerme todas las noches arropada por las oraciones de la iglesia Emanuel”.

El Obispo Primado le preguntó a todas las personas con quienes se reunió lo que querían decirles a sus hermanos episcopales, Para una persona, todo el mundo reconocía que recibir oraciones y apoyo de los demás les había dado impulsos para proseguir.

Lance Ferguson, recién electo guardián mayor en Emanuel, dijo, “hemos tenido ayuda de todas partes del mundo. No lo logramos solos, y eso les ha abierto los ojos a la gente aquí. Uno puede sobreponerse a cualquier cosa si sabe que cuenta con apoyo”, afirmó.

Algunas encuestas hechas por el Fondo Episcopal de Ayuda y Desarrollo después de Harvey mostraban que en sólo unos pocos meses, y con el apoyo económico y los suministros enviados por episcopales de todo el país y del mundo, la Iglesia Episcopal en la Diócesis de Texas ha prestado servicios a más de 90.000 personas afectadas por la tormenta.

“Nos alzamos sobres vuestros hombros”, dijo Richie, el diácono de San Esteban. “Es el vigor de toda la Iglesia el que ha hecho posible la labor que se ha realizado aquí”.

Curry alentó al grupo que se reunió para adorar en Emanuel. “Ustedes, nosotros, no estamos solos, aunque a veces lo sintamos así”, dijo Curry. “Somos hechos para Dios y los unos para los otros, e incluso en medio del infierno puede haber atisbos de cielo cuando no estamos solos”, expresó. resaltando las muchas veces que los vecinos han acudido en ayuda de sus  vecinos durante las inundaciones del Harvey y después.

Yendo más lejos, la misión de la Iglesia se orientará hacia la restauración y la reconstrucción, y eso exigirá mucho apoyo, de las iglesias episcopales de la Diócesis de Texas y de más allá. Al Rdo. Stacy Stringer lo han nombrado director de recuperación del huracán para supervisar los centros regionales en las zonas afectadas que ayudarán a coordinar los empeños de reconstrucción que se calcula que tomen de dos a tres años.

“Estamos muy agradecidos de la visita pastoral del obispo Curry y de sus garantías de oraciones y apoyo continuos de la Iglesia de que él fue portador”, dijo Doyle. “Nosotros también seguimos orando por nuestros hermanos y hermanas que se han visto afectados por huracanes, incendios y deslaves. Es en momentos como estos que nuestra comunidad de creyentes resplandece”.

– Carol Barnwell es directora de comunicaciones de la Diócesis Episcopal de Texas. Traducción de Vicente Echerri.