Diocese of Puerto Rico to join Province II, pending General Convention approval

Puerto Rico Bishop Rafael Morales and seminarians at a Eucharist for the beginning of classes at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in August 2021. Photo: Diocese of Puerto Rico

[Episcopal News Service] The Diocese of Puerto Rico is set to switch from Province IX to Province II after Province II’s synod unanimously voted to accept its request on Sept. 9. The change will go before the 80th General Convention in July 2022 for final approval.

The Diocese of Puerto Rico has been in Province IX – which currently consists of seven dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean – since it was readmitted to The Episcopal Church in 2003. In April, the diocese presented a resolution to the Province IX synod stating its desire to change provinces, which the synod approved unanimously. The diocese then convened a special convention in July to determine which new province it would join, choosing among Provinces II, III and IV, according to Province II Council lay representative Yvonne O’Neal, who represented her province at the convention. Bishops William Klusmeyer of West Virginia and Gregory Brewer of Central Florida represented Provinces III and IV, respectively.

After presentations from the provinces, the diocesan convention voted to join Province II on the sixth ballot. Province II – “the international Atlantic province,” as it calls itself – consists of the dioceses in the states of New York and New Jersey, Haiti, Cuba, the Virgin Islands and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.

Before the Province II synod’s September vote to accept the diocese, Acting President Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, bishop of Central New York, invited Puerto Rico Bishop Rafael Morales to address the synod. In his overview of the diocese’s work, Morales “highlighted the diocesan seminary, the funeral and grief counseling program, the new radio station with its many programs … and how this all feeds into social media,” O’Neal wrote. “One of the most notable achievements of the Diocese of Puerto Rico is the St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System, the biggest on the island, [which] has been in operation for more than 100 years.”

In presenting the resolution, O’Neal noted connections between the Dioceses of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti and the Virgin Islands, including the fact that the Virgin Islands were in the Diocese of Puerto Rico until 1962. O’Neal also told the synod “that Puerto Rico was not coming to Province II seeking financial assistance.”

“The diocese has income-producing enterprises such as the St. Luke’s Health System,” O’Neal wrote. “Eight years ago, the Diocese of Puerto Rico had an endowment of $26 million amassed by the retiring bishop, an endowment that has grown substantially since then.”

The Diocese of Puerto Rico will present a resolution approving the switch at General Convention scheduled to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, next July. The diocese also plans to celebrate 150 years of Anglicanism on the island next year.

Source: Episcopal News

Faith-based agencies celebrate ‘return to moral leadership’ as Biden raises refugee ceiling to 125,000

Syrian refugee

Syrian refugee Ahmad al Aboud and his family members, on their way to be resettled in the United States as part of a refugee admissions program, walk to board their plane in Amman, Jordan, in 2016. Photo: Reuters

[Religion News Service] Faith-based refugee resettlement groups are celebrating the Biden administration’s proposal to admit as many as 125,000 refugees to the United States in the coming year, calling the decision a “return to moral leadership.”

The news came Sept. 20 as the Biden administration submitted its report to Congress setting the refugee ceiling for the new fiscal year, which begins in October.

The proposal fulfills a campaign pledge from President Joe Biden and reverses years of cuts to the U.S. refugee resettlement program by former President Donald Trump.

“Today we celebrate a return to moral leadership and our nation’s commitment to welcome and generosity,” Church World Service Senior Vice President Erol Kekic said Monday in a written statement.

“At long last there is hope for refugees in search of safety, including Afghans who are in imminent danger and thousands of families waiting to be reunited.”

Earlier this year, Biden raised the refugee ceiling — the maximum number of refugees allowed into the country — from 15,000 to 62,500. That number is usually set by the president in consultation with Congress each fall ahead of the new fiscal year.

At the time, the Biden administration called it a stepping stone to reaching 125,000 in his first full fiscal year in office. Biden had pledged that number as a presidential candidate and reiterated it in the days after his election in a speech to Jesuit Refugee Service.

The number is not historically unusual — former President Barack Obama set the refugee ceiling at 110,000 the last year he was in office. And, Church World Service pointed out, the country welcomed more than 207,000 refugees the year after Congress passed the bipartisan Refugee Act of 1980, creating the current U.S. refugee resettlement program.

But it is an about-face from the numbers set by Trump, which were historic lows each year he was in office.

Still, amid a pandemic and the work of rebuilding the U.S. refugee resettlement system after four years of devastating cuts, the U.S. had admitted only 7,637 refugees in 2021 through the end of August.

Faith-based refugee resettlement groups — which make up the backbone of the U.S. refugee resettlement system — agreed Monday there is more work to be done. Even as they praised the higher refugee ceiling, the groups also asked Congress to commit to rebuilding and fully funding the U.S. refugee resettlement program so it could reach that number.

“Raising this cap without dedicating significant resources, personnel, and measures to streamline the process would be largely symbolic,” said Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service President and CEO Krish O’Mara Vignarajah.

Six of the nine refugee agencies the U.S. government contracts to resettle refugees in the country are faith-based: Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, World Relief and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Church World Service and HIAS both noted they had called on the Biden administration to raise the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. this coming year even higher — to 200,000.

Naomi Steinberg, HIAS vice president for policy and advocacy, called raising the refugee ceiling “the right thing to do.”

But, the organization said in its written statement, it’s only a “first step.” It also said the U.S. must provide the same services to Afghans arriving in the country after fleeing the Taliban that refugees receive when they come to the U.S.

Faith-based refugee resettlement agencies have been welcoming Afghan evacuees brought to the U.S. on Special Immigrant Visas, which were created for Afghans who assisted the U.S. government, or on humanitarian parole. They are not counted toward the total number of refugees admitted to the country and do not receive the same resources or path to citizenship that refugees do.

Vignarajah of LIRS stressed the need for more refugee processing officers in the field to conduct the necessary interviews to vet refugees before they are able to come to the U.S. She also suggested remote interviews to allow those interviews to continue during the pandemic — an idea a number of agencies have pushed over the last year and a half.

“It bears repeating that refugees make our nation stronger in innumerable ways, and welcoming them embodies the best of the American spirit,” said Vignarajah.

“We have a unique opportunity to build back the refugee program to meet the unprecedented need — with so many lives on the line, we must seize it.”

This story was originally published by Religion News Service and is republished here with permission.

Source: Episcopal News

Episcopal bishop recalls actor Michael K. Williams’ charity work and life in the church

Bishop Nathan Baxter and Michael K. Williams at the Union of Black Episcopalians’ 2015 UBE Annual Conference and Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Jay Williams II/Lynn A. Collins Photography

[Episcopal News Service] When actor Michael K. Williams’ funeral was held on Sept. 14, it wasn’t in his hometown of New York but at St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which had become a spiritual home for him. Former Central Pennsylvania Bishop Nathan Baxter, a close friend of Williams and his family, gave the sermon, in which he remembered Williams’ generosity and “his affection for The Episcopal Church.”

Williams, who was found dead at his Brooklyn home on Sept. 6 at age 54, grew up attending St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in East Flatbush before gaining fame and acclaim for his role on HBO’s “The Wire.” His nuanced performance as Omar Little, an openly gay Black robber who targeted street-level drug dealers in Baltimore, Maryland, made him one of the most admired actors on television and led to further high-profile roles on “Boardwalk Empire” and “Lovecraft Country.”

Baxter, however, remembered him most for his commitment to helping others. Baxter got to know Williams’ mother after she moved to Harrisburg around 2007, he said, and started attending services at the cathedral. Williams would often come to visit and come to church with her. Williams, who struggled with drug addiction throughout his life, found comfort in the church, Baxter said.

“During those years, at times when he was having some real struggles in his life, he would come by my office right next to the cathedral. He would come and we would sit and talk,” Baxter said, adding that Williams would be there every Christmas Eve with his family.

Williams was a keynote speaker at the Union of Black Episcopalians’ 2015 UBE Annual Conference and Meeting in Baltimore, where he also received the UBE Community Courage Award for his work with at-risk children. Baxter recalled young attendees reacting with awe as Williams talked about his Episcopal upbringing, the struggles he had faced, “and how having a spiritual life can really give you an anchor, even if you stray.”

Much of Williams’ charitable work was done in Harrisburg, which he had “adopted as his home,” Baxter said, including supporting basketball camps for poor children, distributing food to those in need, speaking at Black Lives Matter events and at conferences on solving social problems. Describing Williams as “a wounded healer” in his funeral sermon, Baxter said Williams’ challenges gave him the empathy and drive to help others.

“Michael was open about his own struggles with addiction and the problems that he faced and mistakes that he made,” Baxter said. “The scar that you see on his face that he got in a bar fight in his late teens – he never had that fixed, and a part of it [was because it was] useful in casting him. But another part of it, for Michael, was he thought it was important that people see that life has not always been successful for him.”

That empathy was also what made him a great actor, Baxter said. Though his funeral attracted some celebrities, it also drew old friends from Williams’ childhood in the housing projects of East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

“’We didn’t make it out of the projects, but Michael always came back and encouraged us,’” Baxter recalls one friend saying. “’We call him the prophet of the projects. Because Michael was never an actor playing a character. He was a human being playing a human being.’”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

Source: Episcopal News

Presiding Bishop calls for church reformation ‘in the way of Jesus’ at House of Bishops meeting

Curry at House of Bishops

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches Sept. 21 during the opening worship service of the House of Bishops’ online meeting.

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in his Sept. 21 sermon during the opening day of the fall House of Bishops meeting, recalled a recent conversation with a fellow bishop about planning for The Episcopal Church’s future. Such conversations typically look ahead to the coming years, Curry said, “but in pandemic time, we can barely think a month ahead of time.”

This House of Bishops meeting is a prime example. The bishops’ twice-a-year meetings have been held online since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, but with vaccines against COVID-19 now widely available, the bishops had planned to gather Sept. 21-23 in St. Louis, Missouri, for their first in-person meeting in two years. Instead, the delta variant and the national surge in COVID-19 cases since July forced the bishops to cancel their face-to-face meeting and return to Zoom.

“So now we are here, not in St. Louis,” Curry told the bishops. “The miracle of vaccination has arrived, even with some boosters, and yet some refuse and the pandemic goes on.”

Curry wondered, will diocesan conventions be held in person this fall? Could the delta variant force further changes next year to the church’s General Convention and the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference? “I don’t have any answers yet,” Curry said.

Curry spent much of his 25-minute sermon invoking the term narthex, the area of a church where people pass through to enter and exit, as a metaphor for this period of uncertainty and transition. “We are living in a narthex moment, between the world we knew and whatever is being born,” he said.

That moment was to be the focus of the bishops’ discussions with each other in the “table time” portion of the meeting’s opening day. The opening worship service was livestreamed on YouTube, but the rest of the meeting was closed to the public.

Before the bishops broke into smaller discussion groups, Utah Bishop Scott Hayashi posed three questions for them to discuss: What five words describe your experience with the pandemic? Where has God been present in this time? Have your goals as a bishop changed because of this time of pandemic, racial unrest and political division?

“I’ve had to take it into my heart to consider what has been lost and what has been gained,” said Hayashi, as he lamented that the bishops still could not have such conversations in person.

Curry, during his sermon described watching the 1953 movie “The Robe,” set in biblical times, and hearing echoes of today’s call for the church to reject the trappings of empire. He presented a vision of reformation in the church, away from the establishment and closer to Christianity’s origins in small gatherings.

This, he said, is a “church before collusion with the empire, the church that looks something like Jesus, the church that lived into ‘narthex,’ to let go of the ways things were, to behold the way things could be.”

Curry continued that a reformed church would be “not formed in the way of the world but formed in the way of Jesus and his love.”

“A community of small gatherings and congregations of all stripes and types, a human tapestry, God’s wondrous variety, the Kingdom, the reign of God, the beloved community, no longer centered on empire or establishment, no longer fixated on the preservation of institutions, no longer propping up white supremacy or in collusion with anything that hurts or harms any child of God or God’s creation – by God’s grace, a church that looks and acts and lives like Jesus.

“Welcome to narthex, and welcome to behold a new heaven, a new Earth, a new you, a new me, a new we.”

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




Source: Episcopal News

UK bishops join leaders of other major faiths to demand climate action at COP26 in Glasgow

[Church of England] The new declaration from representatives of religious communities across the United Kingdom calls for people to be “advocates for justice” ahead of the Glasgow summit.

Graham Usher, bishop of Norwich, and lead bishop on the Environment for the Church of England, signed the letter alongside leaders of every major Christian denomination and representatives from Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities.

The declaration states: “We remind governments of their commitments made in Paris in 2015 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and of Article 17 of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights to protect the environment, the biosphere and biodiversity.

“We call upon them to take the urgent action needed to avert the loss, damage, and forced migration threatened by climate change.”

Adding: “Across our doctrinal and political differences, we know that we must change our ways to ensure a quality of life which all can share, and we need to provide hope for people of all ages, everywhere, including future generations.

“To offer hope in the world we need to have confidence that those in power understand the vital role they have to play at the Glasgow COP26.”

The new multi-faith declaration builds on the 2015 Lambeth Declaration and this month’s statement signed by the archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, and the Ecumenical Patriarch.

The three Christian leaders warned of the urgency of environmental sustainability, its impact on poverty, and the importance of global cooperation ahead of COP26.

Usher said: “As a world community we need to come together and keep the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees.

“Glasgow is a ‘Kairos’ moment for the future of this planet. That’s why the voices of faith communities are so important.

“We are drawing on the wells of wisdom within our traditions to encourage the leaders of the world to take the bold, prophetic, steps we all need to take.”

The Glasgow Declaration pledges a response to the challenge set by the climate emergency through being “advocates for justice by calling on governments, businesses and others who exercise power and influence to put into effect the Paris agreement; to make the transition to a just and green economy a priority; and to commit to science-based targets that are aligned with a healthy, resilient, zero-emissions future.”

It comes just 40 days before the beginning of COP26 when leaders are set to agree emission-reducing plans to avert a rise in global temperatures of more than 1.5 degrees.

The publication of the declaration coincides with the end of both the Scottish Government Climate Week and Stop Climate Chaos Fringe Week, as well as the beginning of the Climate Coalition’s Great Big Green Week

Source: Episcopal News

Anglican Communion Secretary General to step down

Archbishop Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, addresses members of General Synod 2016. Photo: Art Babych

[Anglican Communion] Anglican Communion Secretary General Josiah Idowu-Fearon will retire at the end of August 2022. Idowu-Fearon, who will be 73 at the time, was appointed to his role in 2015 on a seven-year term.

His formal notice of retirement was given to the Anglican Communion’s Standing Committee during a meeting last week.

The chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, former archbishop of Hong Kong, the Most Rev. Paul Kwong, said: “I would like to express my gratitude to Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon for being an outstanding secretary-general of the Anglican Communion. His fruitful ministry is marked by his commitment to making himself available always to connect or reconnect people and trying to bring them together in the communion.

“He has been good to maintain positive and productive relationships and to engender cooperation among people with complex, diverse and sensitive relationships and persuasions.

“I thank him deeply for what he has done for the communion, in particular, the Anglican Consultative Council. I wish him all the best for the next phase of his ministry,” Kwong said.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, said “I am deeply grateful to Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon for his leadership in the Anglican Communion as secretary-general of the Anglican Consultative Council. I first met Josiah in 2002 in a railway station café – an appropriate place to meet a bishop who is constantly on the move and always seeking new places to share and live out the Gospel. In the following years I traveled often to his province in Nigeria, a country very dear to my heart that has long enriched my faith

“When he began his tenure as secretary-general, Archbishop Josiah said his prayer was to be a bridge-builder – and over the last six years we have seen God answer that prayer. Josiah’s work in this role has taken him around the communion. He has ministered to us through a profound respect both for our difference and diversity, and with a vision for our unity in Jesus Christ. For his remarkable determination and courage in pursuing this calling, I praise God for the gift that Josiah has been to us.

“I am especially grateful to Josiah for his wisdom and work in the preparations for the Lambeth Conference, and I am glad he will still be in post when that takes place next year. I look forward to continuing in partnership in the Gospel with Josiah over his remaining time as secretary-general and in the future beyond that.”

Idowu-Fearon said: “When I was appointed to this post, I said that ‘my prayer to God is very simple, that I would be able to be a bridge-builder; to create the culture of respect for differences, a culture of accepting people as human beings and loving them for who they are in Christ. If within the Communion, we have this understanding, we can live together with our differences.’

“Over the past six years we have seen this prayer come true. There are still divisions within the Anglican Communion; but there is very little of the bitterness and rancor that existed previously.

“In the early part of this century, the Instruments of Communion met to discuss our difference. Committees and groups were established to examine divisive issues. But agreement was hard to come by. Now, the instruments meet to discuss what we agree on: the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how we play our part in the mission and ministry of His global Church.

“Much of the thanks for that must go to the way Archbishop Justin has prioritized the fostering of good relationships within the Communion; but thanks, too, must go to my colleagues in the Anglican Communion Office, the Anglican Communion’s Primates, and the many hundreds and thousands of Anglicans around the world who have, and who continue, to playing their role in building God’s Kingdom through the Anglican Communion.”

Prior to his appointment as secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, Idowu-Fearon served the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) as bishop of Kaduna and archbishop of the Province of Kaduna. Before that he was bishop of Sokoto; warden of St. Francis of Assisi Theological College in Wusasa and provost of St Michael’s Cathedral in Kaduna.

He continues to play a role in the region, serving as chair of the Kaduna State Peace Commission which is trying to bring about an end conflict between rival groups in that region of the country.

Before ordination, he attended Nigeria’s military school before leaving the Army to train for the priesthood. After his studies in Nigeria, he went to the United Kingdom. There he attended St. John’s College, Durham University, where he studied theology. He then went to Birmingham University earning master’s in Islamic studies and Muslim-Christian relations. It was then, he says, that he realized “the Lord was calling me to be a bridge-builder”.

Subsequently, he earned a Ph.D. in sociology and a postgraduate diploma in education from Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. He has written and lectured extensively about Christian-Muslim relations and served on a number of interfaith bodies.

Idowu-Fearon has been awarded the Officer of the Order of the Niger, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Cross of Saint Augustine’s Award, and is a Canterbury Six Preacher.

The Anglican Communion Standing Committee is working on a succession plan to recruit the next secretary-general.  More details will be announced at a later date.

Source: Episcopal News

Musician Joe Troop releases song, video inspired by Episcopal-supported migrant shelter

Joe Troop plays banjo during an outdoor Eucharist service at la Casa de la Misericordia y de Todas las Naciones in Nogales, Mexico. Photo: David Chavez

[Episcopal News Service] For folk musician Joe Troop, a 2019 visit to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands opened his eyes to the suffering experienced by migrants trying to enter the United States. Two years later, he returned to Nogales, a border city straddling Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora, to volunteer at an Episcopal-supported migrant shelter, an experience that inspired him to write a song.

“Mercy for Migrants” – recently featured in Rolling Stone – bears witness to migrants’ suffering and implores listeners to empathize with them. Troop hopes the song, which features banjo virtuosos Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn and an accompanying video filmed partly at the shelter, will inspire people to learn about the plight migrants face and support the shelter through donations.

La Casa de la Misericordia y de Todas las Naciones, on the Mexican side of Nogales, provides basic short-term housing, food and other services for migrants through an ecumenical partnership of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, the local Evangelical Lutheran Church in America diocese and the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, along with the Anglican Church of Mexico’s Diocese of Western Mexico.

“This little migrant shelter is a peaceful link in a very violent chain,” Troop told Episcopal News Service, “and it offers people a moment of gathering their thoughts, processing what they’ve been through.”

Troop, founder of the Grammy-nominated Argentinian-American string band Che Apalache, was first invited to the borderlands by UCC pastor Randy Mayer, whom he met while teaching at an arts camp. Troop and his bandmates walked with Mayer into the Sonoran Desert, where they were deeply moved by the sight of small crosses marking places where migrants had died, he said. The story Troop was told about one cross in particular stuck with him.

“The remains of a 16-year-old kid were found in the desert, right over the hill from this ostentatious American McMansion kind of place, with a swimming pool with water pumped from the Colorado River, ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ iconography, just this horrible juxtaposition,” Troop said. That image was the initial inspiration for “Mercy for Migrants,” Troop explained. He vowed to return, and did earlier this year with a film crew, capturing footage that would be featured in the song’s music video.

Troop stayed at La Casa for a month, volunteering and getting to know the migrants. He was struck by the difficult conditions at the shelter: the intense heat, scorpions and unreliable access to clean water. But he was also impressed by the care that the shelter offered the migrants.

The shelter typically hosts migrants for periods of several months to a year as legal partners help them apply for asylum and find sponsors in the U.S. Many are fleeing widespread violence in other Latin American countries or seeking a livelihood for their families. In July, the U.S. Border Patrol reported almost 200,000 encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, the highest monthly total in 21 years.

“It’s a very safe space,” said the Rev. David Chavez, the Diocese of Arizona’s missioner for border ministries. “There’s a lot of conviviality.” During the day, the children have school lessons and playtime, while adults perform tasks suited to their abilities and talents, like cooking or gardening. There are medical and psychological services available, and caseworkers from legal aid partners meet with migrants to help them enter the U.S. legally.

“There’s something important to a rhythm that restores, because of the chaotic stories that we’ve heard of the disconnection,” Chavez told ENS.

By the time migrants arrive at the borderlands, many have endured long and dangerous journeys already, with their lives threatened by the harsh conditions and violent gangs.

“Migrants are preyed upon,” Troop said. “There’s tons of human trafficking, there’s tons of rape, there’s tons of violence, sexual violence, extortion, everything you can imagine under the sun.

“It’s really that bad,” he added. “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of the shark. And home for these people is the mouth of a shark. They literally have to leave to survive.”

Troop saw how La Casa managed to provide comprehensive services with limited resources and wanted to help by lending his voice. The video for “Mercy for Migrants” (which is on his new album “Borrowed Time”) directs viewers to a page on his website that explains what La Casa does and encourages people to donate to the ecumenical ministry that supports it.

“It’s one thing to be moved; it’s another thing to open your wallet and give a little bit of money,” Troop said. “When you donate to a lot of organizations, it’s not vetted, so you don’t know whether they’re going to help, but in this case, I can guarantee it. I know everyone involved in this process. … I see the chain of money, and I know what it’s going to be used for, and I know how much it’s going to mean in people’s lives.”

Chavez said he expects migrants will be staying longer at La Casa because of the “Remain in Mexico” policy instituted by the Trump administration, which forces asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases progress through the system. The Biden administration has tried to end the policy, but in August the Supreme Court prevented it from doing so.

He’s grateful that Troop is drawing attention to the strife that migrants face and the humanitarian mission of protecting them.

While touring in Chicago in September 2021, Joe Troop reconnected with a migrant family he had met at the shelter in Mexico. The family had obtained asylum in the U.S. and came to Troop’s show in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Joe Troop

“As Joe expressed, we’re hoping to find that space within the larger world so that this story can [help people] think through the plight but also the presence, the giftedness and embrace of our migrant neighbors,” Chavez said.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

Source: Episcopal News

New Zealand Anglicans back LGBTQ+ conversion ban

[Anglican Taonga] Archbishop Don Tamihere and Archbishop Philip Richardson, the Anglican T3 Youth Commission and the church’s Social Justice Unit have all presented submissions to the Justice Committee in support of a new law that will make it an offense in Aotearoa New Zealand to perform LGBTQ+ conversion practices, which cause serious harm.

“We believe that any religious teaching which seeks to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression against their will is both abusive and damaging,” wrote the archbishops in their submission.

“Abuse in any form is incompatible with the love of God and completely unacceptable within the church. It violates our sacred belief that all people are made in the image of God, are loved by God, and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Read the entire article here.

Source: Episcopal News

Some Episcopal cathedrals and churches begin requiring proof of vaccination to attend services

Grace Cathedral evensong

The opening procession is seen in a video of the Sept. 9 Evensong at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The cathedral begin requiring proof of vaccination to attend worship services on Aug. 29.

[Episcopal News Service] Sunday worshippers who attend one of the three services at St. Luke in the Fields Episcopal Church in New York’s West Village will face new pandemic protocols starting Sept. 19. In addition to wearing a face mask, they now will have to provide proof that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Though far from common, across The Episcopal Church some congregations are requiring proof of vaccination, now that vaccines are widely available, easily obtained and demonstrated to be highly effective and safe. Churches that are limiting in-person worship to the vaccinated cite another factor: the recent surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide due to the highly contagious delta variant.

“This is an evolving situation, so we’re trying to evolve with it,” the Rev. Caroline Stacey, rector of St. Luke in the Fields, told Episcopal News Service. She sees in-person worship as a core mission of the church, and church leaders should make attending those services as safe as possible.

“The rights of individuals to choose not to get vaccinated ends where the responsibility to safeguard the worshiping community begins,” she said.

New York’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine established a similar vaccination requirement for anyone entering the building starting on Sept. 1. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California, began Aug. 29 checking for proof of vaccination at Sunday worship services. The cathedrals allow unvaccinated children to attend worship services with parents who show their own proof of vaccination. In mid-August both New York and San Francisco, the two most densely populated cities in the United States, mandated proof of vaccination to enter certain indoor spaces, such as restaurants and concert halls, though such measures are optional for religious facilities.

Individual Episcopal congregations, with diocesan input, generally are setting their own safety protocols for reducing the transmission of COVID-19 at in-person worship services. Last month, several dioceses, including Maine and Long Island, began requiring clergy and staff members to get one of the authorized COVID-19 vaccinations. That workplace measure also is being adopted by many secular employers, and the Biden administration soon will require most American workers get vaccinated or produce weekly negative test results before clocking in.

Community access is another consideration that church leaders face when setting vaccination status as a condition for entering houses of worship. Some have questioned whether such policies strike the right balance for churches that are striving to welcome all and exclude none.

The Very Rev. Malcolm Young, dean of Grace Cathedral, said he is a longtime supporter of efforts to expand public access to Episcopal churches, so adding a vaccination requirement “wasn’t an easy decision to make at all.” He defended it by suggesting that some worshippers felt excluded before vaccines were required – they didn’t feel safe attending a service open to people who are eligible but have chosen not to get vaccinated.

“I think we may actually have more people coming to church as a result of the vaccine requirement,” Young told ENS. The requirement shouldn’t catch anyone by surprise, he added. “If you’re coming to San Francisco on vacation, you should probably know that having a vaccination card is essential to do pretty much anything.”

Other Episcopal leaders have voiced caution about putting up medical barriers to entering churches, especially months ago amid early concerns about disparities in vaccine access for low-income Americans and people of color.

“We know that early access to the vaccines was often a matter of privilege,” New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche said in a May 27 message to his diocese. At that time, his COVID-19 guidelines stopped short of making “blanket requirements for all of our churches,” but he added, “the church should not be in the business of creating yet another caste system separating those who are vaccinated from those who are not.”

Since then, racial disparities in vaccination rates have diminished, according to data tracked by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Hispanic recipients of the vaccines make up about 17% of the U.S. total, equal to their representation in the population, while 10% of vaccinated individuals are Black, slightly lower than the 12% of the country that is African American.

In mid-April, Massachusetts Bishop Alan Gates and Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris issued guidance to the Boston-based diocese that both urged all church members to get vaccinated and opposed vaccination requirements for participation in worship services. At that time, only Americans ages 16 and older were eligible for one of the vaccines. Eligibility has since been extended to everyone 12 and older, but Food and Drug Administration authorization has not yet been granted for vaccination of younger children.

In mid-August, the diocese repeated its guidance.

“We strongly urge vaccination against the coronavirus for all our members as soon as they are eligible,” Harris said in an Aug. 16 update. “We reiterate, however, that our congregations must not require vaccination, nor documentation thereof, for attendance at worship services.”

The diocese has chosen to implement other safety precautions instead, the Rev. William C. Parnell, Massachusetts’ canon to the ordinary, said in an interview with ENS. Clergy and staff members must be vaccinated, and congregations must ask worshippers to wear face masks and maintain physical distancing. The bishops also have advised congregations to refrain from serving wine from a common cup and issued other recommendations to slow the spread of the virus.

“They have tried to continue to make the church a place of welcome for everybody, but also to implement the safety protections to ensure that people are gathering safely,” Parnell said.

Congregations are making these decisions within the context of stark regional, state and county differences in COVID-19 case counts and vaccination rates. The United States now is averaging about 150,000 new cases a day after dropping nearly as low as 10,000 a day in June. Some of the worst outbreaks in recent months have been in Southern states where large portions of their populations haven’t been vaccinated.

The Northeast, on the other hand, has some of the country’s highest vaccination rates. In Massachusetts, 67% of residents are fully vaccinated, compared with the national average of 54%. The state also has the second lowest rate of hospitalizations, behind Vermont, according to data tracked by the New York Times.

Maine’s vaccination rate also stands at 67%. Last month, the Diocese of Maine was the first to require clergy and staff members to be vaccinated. The diocese’s churches are considering whether to require the same for worshippers. For example, to enter Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rockland, worshippers now must bring their vaccination cards or show photocopies or cellphone photos of the cards, or else email copies to the church in advance.

California’s 57% vaccination rate is slightly above the national average, but the rates in the counties that make up the San Francisco-based Diocese of California are the highest in the state. In San Francisco County, 72% of residents are fully vaccinated, including 79% of all adults. Even so, Grace Cathedral’s vaccination requirement has been a target for critics.

“We’ve definitely heard from people who are not happy with this policy,” said Young, though many of the most vocal critics of the vaccine mandate, especially on Twitter, are not from the congregation. Members of the congregation aren’t uniformly in agreement, he said, but most have been supportive.

California Bishop Marc Andrus has recommended all 75 congregations in the diocese implement a vaccination requirement at worship services, and the diocese estimates about a third have done so.

“All have acted to keep themselves and their neighbors safe,” Andrus told ENS in an emailed statement. “Grace Cathedral has been in the lead in terms of safe practices and has been an inspiration to all our congregations. Their decision to require proof of vaccination is the right thing to do, and in accordance with our strong recommendations.”

Potential ethical questions raised by such policies can be answered by focusing on congregations’ efforts to maximize the sense of community that in-person gathering fosters while also maximizing the safety of those who are gathering, said Scott Bader-Saye, academic dean at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

“You can feel the tension in this,” Bader-Saye said in an interview with ENS. Churches are taking different approaches to striking that balance, and for some to include proof of vaccination among their pandemic precautions “seems to me a position that has ethical credibility.” Others may see that as too high a barrier. “I think all of those can be faithful responses to what’s going on at this point,” he said.

Bader-Saye, who teaches Christian ethics and moral theology at the Episcopal seminary, suggested that the new vaccine requirements would be more problematic if access to the vaccines was as uneven as it was earlier this year. As for the seminary, vaccinations are required of all students, faculty and staff members to appear on campus.

“That’s allowed us to get to about 98% vaccination rate in our community,” he said. “Because of that, we feel a pretty high comfort level.”

St. Luke in the Fields, the New York church, also offers unvaccinated adults the option of showing a recent negative COVID-19 to enter the church. Most of the 200 or so people who regularly attend worship at St. Luke in the Field on Sundays are vaccinated, said Stacey, the rector. With the testing option, “there is no absolute barrier to attending worship, even for unvaccinated persons.”

New York was one of the first cities in the United States to require proof of vaccination for common indoor activities. Starting Aug. 17, that requirement applied to indoor dining, indoor fitness and indoor entertainment. Enforcement is scheduled to begin Sept. 13. With religious services not included, most places of worship in the city have chosen not to ask for proof of vaccination, according to a New York Times report.

On New York’s Upper West Side, Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church will not check vaccination status at the door for the 50 or so worshippers who attend services on a typical Sunday. “As a church we cannot require proof of vaccination to participate in public worship,” the Rev. Andrew Blume said in an online summary of the congregation’s pandemic precautions, though that may have been more a practical decision.

In an interview with ENS, Blume said that decision mostly came down to staffing. Larger congregations have more resources to enforce a vaccination requirement, and he didn’t feel comfortable putting Saint Ignatius’ volunteer ushers in that position.

He and his congregation still support vaccination efforts, he said, and the church has implemented other standard precautions, including a mask requirement. “We’re doing a lot of things that are designed to maintain people’s safety and security and their sense of feeling secure and protected and safe in church.”

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

Source: Episcopal News

Springfield announces candidates for diocesan bishop

[Diocese of Springfield] The election committee for the 12th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield is pleased to announce the nine nominees for the diocese’s next bishop.

The nominees have come from across the country, and together have decades of experience serving Christ and parishioners.

“It is our prayer that our next bishop, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, will help us write the next chapter in the story of our diocese,” the election committee said in a Sept. 14 statement. “With God’s help, the next chapter of our story will be greater than our past – for in Jesus the best is yet to be.”

In alphabetical order, the nominees are:

  • The Very Rev. Sheryl Leonard Black, Diocese of Springfield;
  • The Very Rev. Brian Kendall Burgess, Diocese of New Jersey;
  • The Rev. George Arthur Munger Conger, Diocese of Central Florida;
  • The Rev. Mark Evans, Diocese of Springfield;
  • The Rev. Michael P. Greene, Diocese of New Hampshire;
  • The Rev. Mary Ann Hill, Diocese of Oklahoma;
  • The Rev. Scott Allen Seefeldt, Diocese of Milwaukee;
  • The Rev. Jonathan (Jon) Robert Stratton, Diocese of Missouri;
  • The Rev. Gregory Allen Tournoux, Diocese of Springfield.

You can learn more about the nominees here.

With God’s help, the clergy and lay delegates to the nominating synod will narrow this field of nominees to three final candidates on Saturday, Oct, 16 at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Springfield, Illinois.

The next bishop will succeed Bishop Daniel Hayden Martins, who was elected in 2011 and retired June 30, 2021.

The Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, established in 1877, is comprised of 33 congregations and nearly 4,000 members across central and southern Illinois.

Source: Episcopal News