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Season of Intentional Discipleship sparks growing worldwide movement

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 12:49pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans around the world are joining in a movement of discipleship, equipping each other to spread the power of the Gospel. The coordinating group for the Season of Intentional Discipleship is meeting this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia amid growing excitement. As they gather, a film highlighting the Season of Intentional Discipleship has been released.


Primate-elect of Central America calls Anglicans ‘a people of hope’

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 12:45pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop Julip Muray has been setting out his hopes and vision after he was elected the new primate of the province of Central America. He was unanimously chosen during the province’s sixth synod, which was held in San Jose, Costa Rica. The province includes five dioceses: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama.

Read the full article here.

New interactive website aims to help Episcopalians navigate church’s clergy discipline procedures

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 10:23am

A nearly two-year effort to develop an interactive website to help Episcopalians navigate the church’s Title IV clergy disciplinary process came in under budget and will debut this July during the 79th meeting of General Convention.

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The Episcopal Church’s decades-long process of refining its clergy discipline process will take a big logistical step forward this summer when an interactive website debuts. The site was developed with the hope of bringing a common understanding of the rules and helping clergy avoid getting into trouble and injuring others in the first place.

The website is in the beta testing phase, and members of the church’s Executive Council have been invited to join that process. The site is designed to help Episcopalians navigate the church’s Title IV clergy disciplinary process (those canons can be found beginning on page 131 of the church’s Constitution and Canons here).

Council member Polly Getz, who has long-time experience as a chancellor at various levels of the church, explained to her colleagues April 21 that the website is the result of nearly two years of work by a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons.

The project drew praise from three of the church’s leaders after it was presented to the council.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry noted during a news conference after the end of the meeting April 23 that the invitation to the council to give feedback on the website occurred during the same meeting in which he briefed the members on the report of the Commission on Impairment and Leadership.

Both the website and the report and its recommendations address what happens when “people are hurt or wounded,” he said. Each represents “this church’s commitment to be a place where every human child of God is safe, is respected as a child of God made in God’s image and where we can be as sure of that as we can. That’s this church saying to #MeToo: we’re taking that seriously. It is worth putting all this time and energy into this because we’re serious about this.”

House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings said “this has become a project of the heart, mind and soul” for Getz and Diocese of Utah Communications Director Craig Wirth, with whom Getz worked.

The website project will “deepen our ability to respond to unfortunate situations in ways that are constructive, positive and help all parties move ahead,” Jennings said.

The Episcopal Church has been a leader in addressing and trying to prevent clergy misconduct, according to the Rev. Michael Barlowe, the executive officer of General Convention. The current effort is “a continuing unfolding of the Episcopal Church’s historic emphasis on making our church the safe church that we want to be.”

Barlowe also pointed to the work of the General Convention Task Force to Update Sexual Misconduct Policies. The group recently released updated safe church policies.

A model policy for the protection of children and youth is here, as well as one for the protection of vulnerable adults here. An frequently asked questions document is available here,

“This is yet another example of how the Episcopal Church is trying to walk its talk,” Barlowe said.

Executive Council member Polly Getz of San Diego briefed her colleagues on the construction of an interactive website to help Episcopalians learn how to live into the spirit of the church’s clergy discipline rules, known as Title IV. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Getz told Episcopal News Service after the council concluded its meeting here that despite the best efforts of those who have had a hand in rewriting the clergy discipline rules and trying to streamline them, those rules have gotten more complicated. “The more important reason for wanting to do the website is that we had folks across the church doing [Title IV] training and they were not necessarily interpreting what they were reading in the same way,” Getz said. Those differences have led to inconsistencies in how the canons were being interpreted and “lived into,” she added.

Plus, Getz said, the website pays more attention to Title IV’s theological underpinnings than previous training efforts, including the importance of grounding all over around clergy discipline in the principles stated in the preamble to the rules. “By virtue of Baptism, all members of the church are called to holiness of life and accountability to one another,” that canon says. “The church and each diocese shall support their members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected.”

Getz said chancellors always discuss how Title IV is being used across the church. “The conclusion has been, for the last 15 years, that no matter how much we study and talk about it, we still end up with folks interpreting it differently in one place versus another,” she said. Her hope for and the objective of the project is to rectify those situations and help the church develop a common understanding of the process and its goals.

“I believe if everyone fully understands and works with and implements Title IV in the manner in which it was written, we will achieve our goals of fairness, of justice, of transparency and so forth, creating meaningful opportunities for restoration, for amendment of life, reconciliation to the church,” Getz said.

The work that resulted in the website came in response to Resolution A150 in which the General Convention called in 2015 for the development and implementation Title IV training materials for the church.

The subcommittee joined with Wirth and diocesan communications assistant Halle Oliver to develop the website, which Getz said came in under budget.

One part of the new website, titled General Education and Best Practices, has about 250 videos on various topics involved in clergy discipline. Each video runs about 2:30 minutes and features Episcopalians who have had experience with implementing the Title IV canons.

One part of the site, titled General Education and Best Practices, has about 250 videos that each run about 2:30 minutes each. Getz and Wirth sought a variety of bishops, priests and deacons, including the current and previous presiding bishops, to contribute to the section, its explanation says. There are also contributions from experts in theology, church law, church administration and communications, and those who have studied and revised Title IV since the early 1990s.

“We wanted the broadest possible spectrum of leaders in the church to talk about their experiences, to talk about what they have found to be best practices, flowing from the nitty gritty of the canons,” Getz said.

The other part of the website is more technical, she explained. It outlines the roles of what she called various “stakeholders” in the disciplinary process. The section offers a method for each participant to understand his or her responsibilities and to see alternatives and possible outcomes at each step of the process, as well as observe the big picture, according to the page’s explanation.

While information in that section is “derived from the canons after considerable research and reflects each step as determined by a committee of those who are recognized authorities of Title IV, it is not intended to be the sole source of canonical law for use in the Title IV proceedings,” the explanation says.

The site will also offer a frequently asked questions page, a glossary and a library of templates for the many forms used in the Title IV process. The site is optimized to be responsive on all devices from desktop computers to mobile phones.

The other main part of the website offers a step-by-step process of a Title IV proceeding for each participant who is part of the process.

Episcopal Church canons have expressed concern about clergy behavior since the General Convention in 1789 made it wrong for clergy — except “for their honest necessities” — to “resort to taverns, or other places most liable to be abused to licentiousness.”

That original Canon 13 also warned that clergy who “[gave] themselves to base or servile labor, or to drinking or riot, or to spending their time idly” would face a range of disciplinary actions.

The church ever since has been refining its answer to the question of how best to discipline errant clergy. The tradition continued at the 77th meeting of General Convention in 2012 when bishops and deputies tweaked the then-current version of the Title IV disciplinary canons that had been in use for just more than a year.

There were more changes to come. In 2015, bishops and deputies approved several Title IV revisions, including adding sanctions for those who may attempt to delay or disrupt the disciplinary process, and allocating money for training materials to help streamline proceedings. As the subcommittee began to do its work, it realized that perhaps it needed to “break out of the mold of how the wider church gets its projects done,” Getz said.

Diocese of Utah Chancellor Steve Hutchinson, who has been deeply involved in Title IV revisions, suggested that the subcommittee work with Wirth. Getz said Wirth brought fresh eyes to the projects and helped the group see there might be a better way to present the training materials than the way that people whom she called the “linear lawyers” have always done it. She said they look at the discipline process and potential training materials through a timeline approach.

Getz said, “people have tried for several years to create flow charts of how Title IV works; I have yet to see one that you could logically follow.”

Wirth told ENS that his work in integrative marketing communications and broadcast news has always been driven by providing material in a way that serves the audience. In the case of the clergy discipline process, there were multiple audiences ranging from clergy to people who feel they have been mistreated to lawyers to every Episcopalian to those outside the church who watch how it handles these issues. He proposed a website built, in part, around the stakeholders in the process so each could learn about their roles and see how they interacted with the roles of others.

An interactive website made sense, Wirth said, because “online learning is not the future; it’s the present.”

Thus, the subcommittee developed a different way to look at the process. Users can click on one stakeholder category, see the squares on the web page’s grid light up if they relate to that person and follow those responsibilities for that stakeholder. However, that person can also look at the roles of other participants and how they fit together.

Wirth said he thinks the site’s other goal of presenting best practices and teaching about clergy discipline issues is perhaps even more important that the process side. A major success for the website in his eyes, he said, would be “preventing Title IV incidents” in the future.

Thus, the best practices section includes people offering what Wirth called “very frank discussions” about the pressures, stresses and obligations that come with living an ordained life. Clergy promise in their ordination vows to do their best to live their lives “in accordance with the teachings of Christ,” so that they “may be a wholesome example to all people.”

Getz and Wirth said they hope seminaries and local clergy-formation programs especially will make use of those videos so that more and more new clergy will be schooled in the process and aware of how to protect the people they are meant to shepherd. Getz sees the website as offering a flexible way for formation programs to provide students with uniform knowledge about the rules and their intentions.

For instance, Getz said, some clergy members are concerned about the canonical requirements that they report when they see what they fear are possible violations by other clergy. They need to understand that such reporting is meant to open the possibility for someone in authority “to intervene where risky or dangerous behavior is noticed and stop the conduct from going further, whether it’s through counseling or issuing a pastoral directive or something else” so that it doesn’t result in some sort of abuse and a claim of clergy misconduct.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

Executive Council wraps up its triennial work, looks to General Convention

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 6:45pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
served April 22 as the emcees of a dinner during which continuing members of Executive Council honored the service of their colleagues who are completing their six-year terms. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] Tying up loose ends, moving the mission and ministry of the church forward and saying good-bye to half of its members, the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council on April 23 wrapped up its triennial work.

In its last official act of the 2016-2018 triennium, council spent 45 minutes in executive session, reviewing its work during the last three years.

At a news conference after council adjourned, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said council concluded its work “with laughter, a sense of joy and a sense of accomplishment.

“We got some stuff done. We faced some difficult issues. We faced them, we figured them out, we said our prayers and did some pretty darn good work,” he said.

House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings said that council and the church’s executive leadership team have clarified their roles and responsibilities, as well as their obligations to each other and the wider church.

“It’s been a lovely journey, and I think we’ve grown immensely in our respect for one another,” she said. “We trust one another. We don’t always agree with each other, but we seem to be able to just keep at it. When we don’t agree or when we have an issue, my experience has been that we speak the truth in love.”

The Episcopal Church has a tradition of calling leaders who bring wisdom, spiritual centeredness and deep experience, said the Rev. Michael Barlowe, the secretary of General Convention. Curry and Jennings, he said, embody that tradition.

Both Jennings and Curry said they are looking forward to returning to Austin for the 79th meeting of General Convention in early July. “The Jesus Movement is beginning to grow roots,” she said, adding that she is excited to discover what new ideas will bubble up at convention. Curry agreed, saying he anticipates that this meeting of convention “will be going deeper.”

The Rev. Jabriel Ballentine, a continuing Executive Council member, pays tribute to member Anita George during the council’s celebratory dinner April 22. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

On April 23, the outgoing chairs of council’s five committees gave their final reports. Some included exhortations about the future work of the council as leaders in the Episcopal Church. Anita George, chair of the council’s Joint Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking, said that her committee is charged with “giving voice and connecting Episcopalians for the purpose of advancing the work of joining in God’s mission of justice, peace, reconciliation and transformation.”

Achieving that goal begins with each Episcopalian, George said, including its leaders. During this meeting, George said Advocacy and Networking members “engaged in lengthy deliberations regarding the ongoing and critical need for Executive Council and the Episcopal Church to engage in deep training and discussions around racism and racial reconciliation.”

Committee members discussed the fact that “many examples of incidents within and without the church remind us that the work is far from over,” George said.

The committee “urges the church to require all leaders of the Episcopal Church, including Executive Council, to engage in antiracism training and deep conversations around race,” George said. “It further encourages the church to engage in discussion to explore the use and power of potentially harmful language when interacting with the wide and diverse groups that comprise our beloved church.”

The committee said church leaders must recognize that “even with the best intentions we may insult or harm others without sensitivity inappropriate language when we are engaged with good works,” George said.

George said, as she departs the council, she leaves with “high hopes and very, very high expectations of this body. I challenge you, I challenge you, to remember the faces of God who are not here and who depend on you to continue to make space for them and their voices in the beloved community. I implore you, and I love you.”

She returned to her seat amid a standing ovation.

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1). The council comprises 38 members – 20 (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. In addition, the vice president of the House of Deputies, secretary, chief operating officer, treasurer and chief financial officer have seat and voice but no vote. Thus, 19 members of council will officially finish their six-year terms during General Convention this July.

Diocese of Texas Bishop Andy Doyle told members of the Executive Council and the church-wide staff during an April 22 reception that the diocese is looking forward to hosting General Convention in Austin this July. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Here are some of the actions that council took on the last day of its three-day meeting:

* The members agreed to provide financial assistance to 13 dioceses and one area mission that have said they need help covering the costs of attending General Convention. All of the entities already receive block grants from the church-wide budget. Bishop of Honduras Lloyd Allen, a council member, said the assistance “is a dream come true. We have cried, we have asked, we have begged.”

Although each entity will receive $1,200, which another council member noted amounts to about $150 per deputy per day of convention, Allen said the biggest concern has been about help in covering the registration cost, “which has prevented our delegation from being complete at General Convention.”

Each bishop, deputy and alternate deputy must pay a $600 registration fee, in addition to their lodging and transportation costs.

The Rev. Nathaniel Pierce, outgoing council member, noted that council had passed a similar resolution, albeit for a smaller amount, early in 2015 to help cover such costs for the last General Convention. Council needs to consider what he called “the systemic issues” that will continue to prompt this stop-gap funding.

“I, for one, am ashamed that folks have to beg for this money,” he said.

The Rev. Jabriel Ballentine, continuing Executive Council member, said that the block grant recipients do great work with that money “and so to say that we should force people who are doing great ministry to decide between using those limited resources to do ministry or holding onto those resources in order to come to the table [General Convention] is a false dichotomy.”

Outgoing council member Nancy Koonce said that the Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM) has urged its successors to consider this dilemma.

Barlowe agreed that while those entities that have been “gracious” in asking for this money, “we shouldn’t constantly have to rely on their graciousness.” The issue, he said, goes to the root of the church’s polity about broad participation in policy-making bodies. He said the council’s executive committee will be considering the issue between the end of the upcoming General Convention and the beginning of council’s next meeting in October.

Outgoing Executive Council member Pragedes Coromoto Jimenez de Salazar, foreground, of Venezuela, tells her colleagues that she will continue to work for the good of the entire the Episcopal Church. Interpreter Dinorah Padro assisted her during her remarks. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

* The members heard that a small group of people who have been involved in the church’s triennial budgeting process will convene between now and the start of General Convention to consider how to improve that process. A goal, according to outgoing FFM Chair Tess Judge, would be to establish a process “that allows early involvement by PB&F (the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance), as well as more time for FFM to deal with other matters related to the financial status of the church.”

The church’s Standing Commission on Governance, Structure, Constitution and Canons called in its Blue Book report (beginning on page 402 here) for a task force to reshape the budget process. “The church is mired in a budget process that does not make enough time available for input by the church at large prior to General Convention,” the commission said.

However, when FFM met together April 22 with council’s Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission, the members agreed that it made more sense to address the issues involved immediately.

* The council heard good news about the work of its Assessment Review Committee. The committee has been talking to about 18 dioceses that do not currently pay the full amount of the assessment or who anticipate asking for a partial or full waiver in 2019. “We anticipate significantly lower amounts than in the proposed budget,” Judge said.

That budget forms the basis for PB&F’s work at General Convention to craft the 2019-2021 budget includes a line item reserving $5.9 million for such waivers.

Council established the committee in early 2015 ahead of General Convention that summer making mandatory the current voluntary diocesan budgetary asking system for the 2019-2021 budget cycle. Each year’s annual diocesan giving in the three-year budget had been based on a diocese’s income two years earlier, minus $150,000. Any diocese that cannot or will not pay the soon-to-be-required percentage of its annual income must ask for a partial or full waiver to avoid any penalty, such as not being eligible for church-wide grants.

* Council members approved a policy on alcohol use by Domestic and Foreign Mission Society employees (DFMS is the name under which the Episcopal Church is incorporated, conducts business and carries out mission). Rooted in General Convention Resolution 2015-A158, which called for such policies, council agreed to the employee policy that puts “appropriate limits on the serving and consumption of alcohol” at DFMS work, gatherings, “activities and celebratory events.”

“Excessive alcohol consumption may endanger the health and safety of DFMS employees and others around them and tarnish the DFMS’ reputation,” the policy says. It added that those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages in such settings “are expected to behave respectfully, professionally, within legal limits, and in accordance with all DFMS policies.”

The policy includes details about availability and consumption of alcohol.

Council’s action came at the end of a meeting during which the members heard Curry summarize the Commission on Impairment and Leadership’s findings and recommendations.

* Council member Polly Getz and Diocese of Utah Communications Director Craig Worth invited the council to help them beta test a new website designed to help educate the church on its Title IV clergy disciplinary process. The site will debut to the public during General Convention this July. Episcopal News Service will post a story about the website this week.

Summaries of all the resolutions council passed at this meeting are here.

Some council members tweeted from the meeting using #ExCoun.

The April 21-23 meeting took place at the Wyndham Garden Austin hotel.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.

A summary of Executive Council resolutions

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 6:44pm

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] During its April 21-23 meeting here, the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council adopted multiple resolutions that are summarized below.

Finances for Mission

Allocate $1,200 for each of the 14 entities receiving block grants to support attendance at the 2018 General Convention. Funding sources to be identified by the treasurer and the presiding bishop. (Entities are the dioceses of Alaska, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador Central, Ecuador Litoral, Haiti, Honduras, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Taiwan, Venezuela and Virgin Islands and Navajoland Area Mission) (FFM105).

Establish Trust Fund 1175, St. Andrew’s Newcastle, ME HVF, as an investment account for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Newcastle in Maine (FFM106).

Establish Trust Fund 1176, Outreach Endowment of the Master Endowment of the Church of the Incarnation, as an investment account for Church of the Incarnation of Franklin, North Carolina (FFM107).

Establish Trust Fund 1177, Music Endowment of the Master Endowment of the Church of the Incarnation, as an investment account for Church of the Incarnation of Franklin, North Carolina (FFM108).

Make annual income derived from The Emery Fund for Missionaries Home on Furlough be available beginning Jan. 1, 2019, to programs for missionaries appointed by the Episcopal Church; such programs will provide training or retreats with educational and recreational components not otherwise included in the annual operating budget; such programs, designed by mission personnel and senior staff will be reviewed and agreed to by an appropriate committee of Executive Council; any annual income not used be reinvested (FFM109).

Approve fundraising for TEC Talks at General Convention 2018, pursuant to resolutions FFM-013 (February 2010) and FFM-067 (October 2014) (FFM110).

Allocate 50 percent of the income from Trust Fund 815, The Vincent Astor Fund, to the Diocese of New York and 50 percent to the Diocese of Long Island for the period 2018 through 2020, pending receipt of appropriate accounting and narrative reports for previously disbursed funds (FFM111).

Establish Trust Fund 1178, Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin a Corporation Sole, the Diocesan Reserve Account, as an investment account for the Diocese of San Joaquin (FFM112).

Establish Trust Fund 1179, Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin, a Corporation Sole, the Episcopal Conference Center Oakhurst (ECCO), as an investment account for the Diocese of San Joaquin (FFM113).

Establish Trust Fund 1180, Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin a Corporation Sole, Restricted Funds Account – Clipper Trust Sub-account, as an investment account for the Diocese of San Joaquin (FFM114).

Establish Trust Fund 1181, Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin a Corporation Sole, Restricted Funds Account – Togni Remainder Trust Sub-account, as an investment account for the Diocese of San Joaquin (FFM115).

Establish Trust Fund 1182, Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin a Corporation Sole, Restricted Funds Account – Mary Zita Turtle Trust Sub-account, as an investment account for the Diocese of San Joaquin (FFM116).

Approve, in addition to the draft budget recommendation, a supplementary grant of up to $330,000 to support the Episcopal Church in Navajoland to enable it to produce a balanced budget for 2018, funding to be determined by the treasurer considering triennial results and/or reserves if needed (FFM117).

Authorizes an additional secured line of credit to St. Augustine’s University of up to $1 million secured by a deed of trust of certain parcels with a combined appraised value of at least $2.5  million; draw will be subject to completion of due diligence satisfactory to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society treasurer, including but not limited to confirming the value of the property, securing the loan, and implementing changes in corporate and university board governance (FFM118).

Approve request from Ethnic Ministries to apply for a grant from the Lily Endowment, pursuant to resolutions FFM-013 (February 2010) and FFM-067 (October 2014) (FFM119).

Governance and Administration for Mission

Adopt proposed human resources policy regarding alcohol use (GAM015).

Consent to the nomination by the presiding bishop of the slate of nominees for election to the Episcopal Church Women National Board as recommended by the ECW National Board Nominating Committee as follow, President: Jackie Meeks (Province VII-Fort Worth) and Karen Patterson (Province IV-SW Florida); 1st Vice President – Program: Patricia Wellnitz (Province VI-Nebraska); 2nd Vice President – Information & Communication:  None; Secretary: Samar Fay (Province VI-Colorado); At-Large Multimedia: Michelle Kuruma (Province VIII-Los Angeles) and Laura Orcutt (Province VIII-Utah); At-Large Social Justice: Delores Alleyne (Province I-Connecticut), Suzanne Miller (Province VIII-Utah), the Rev. Ema Rosero Nordalm (Province I-Massachusetts); Treasurer: None (GAM016).

Local Mission and Ministry

Fund grant requests as recommended by the Young Adult and Campus Ministry Council, approved for funding in 2018 from budget line 67, Goal: Formation (LMM016).

Approve grant process for the Roanridge Trust, revising it to parallel the grant process now in place for the Constable Fund (LMM017).

Approve grants recommended by the Evangelism Grants Committee to be funded in 2018 from budget line 28k, Goal: Evangelism (LMM18).

Modify the 2018 budget to transfer $100,000 from budget line 28k, Other General Evangelism initiatives, to line 27a, Church Planting grants (LMM019).

World Mission

Approve the United Thank Offering Grants for 2018 (WM035).

Approve 2019 United Thank Offering Young Adult and Seminarian Grants focus and criteria (WM036).

Adopt resolution to forward it to the secretary of General Convention asking that the 79th General Convention create an Advisory Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations to be appointed by the presiding officers; committee to work with the Office of Ecumenical Relations and to make recommendations to the Executive Council Joint Standing Committee on World Mission or its equivalent (WM037).

Canadian Anglicans to pray for the peace of Jerusalem

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 5:31pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans in Canada are being asked to pray for the peace of Jerusalem next month, on a date designated Jerusalem Sunday by the province. The Church’s General Synod passed a resolution at its 2013 meeting to “observe the Seventh Sunday of Easter, commonly known as the Sunday after Ascension Day, as Jerusalem Sunday.”

The annual day has been welcomed by the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, who described it as “a tremendous encouragement and further testimony to our oneness in the Body of Christ and our bond-of-affection as members of the Anglican Communion.”

Read the full article here.

Anglican-Jewish Commission releases communiqué from recent meeting

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 5:30pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Immigration and minorities were chief topics of discussion at a meeting of the Anglican-Jewish Commission in March in Jerusalem. One particular focus was the situation facing Christians in the Middle East. They agreed that any responses to the situation must be grounded in an understanding and affirmation of human life and freedom.

Read the entire article here.

Wisconsin church’s rain barrel sale highlights outreach plans emphasizing creation care

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 5:12pm

Kim Wahl of the Wisconsin Green Schools Network leads a workshop on rain barrels on April 21 at Aspen Ridge Home & Garden in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. The workshop was part of an initiative by Trinity Episcopal Church. Photo: Elizabeth McGehee

[Episcopal News Service] You might say Trinity Episcopal Church in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, is offering creation care by the barrel.

The congregation, thanks in part to a Stewardship of Creation grant from the Episcopal Church, distributed 30 rain barrels on April 21 to residents of this small city in mostly rural southwest Wisconsin. Its rain barrel workshop kicked off a weeklong program of Earth Day events on the theme “Water Is Life.”

The Rev. John Floberg, Episcopal missioner on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, will speak later this week in Mineral Point about the Episcopal Church’s opposition last year to part of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And Trinity’s $10,000 grant also will be used to create raised garden beds and a separate rain garden on church grounds, as well as to produce a children’s education program on environmental issues.

This flurry of activity follows Trinity’s success hosting a one-day environmental film series in September that was backed by a Diocese of Milwaukee grant. These are examples of ways Trinity is deliberately reaching out to residents on environmental issues, said the Rev. Brian Backstrand, Trinity’s rector.

“I think we’ve touched a chord of interest and concern in the community,” he said. “It’s something that I’m personally very passionate about.”

Rain barrels at Aspen Ridge Home & Garden in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, are lined up ready for customers to take home through a discount program set up by Trinity Episcopal Church. Photo: Elizabeth McGehee

Trinity was able to offer the rain barrels, which typically cost $180 each, for just $46, because the congregation negotiated with the manufacturer to bring the price down to $114. The grant then covered more than half that cost. To receive the rain barrels, each customer was asked to attend a workshop on April 21 at Aspen Ridge Home & Garden to learn how the barrels work and how to set them up.

The idea for the rain barrel initiative stemmed from a meeting with an official at the state Department of Natural Resources, or DNR.

Jane Stenson, who leads Trinity’s Creation Care Committee, told Episcopal News Service that she, Backstrand and Trinity’s senior warden met with the DNR official to learn more about water issues in Iowa County. Backstrand had recently preached at Trinity on the gospel passage about the woman at the well and the water of eternal life, and Stenson noted echoes of biblical language in the DNR specialist’s scientific descriptions of how “old water” is renewed.

While rain water is naturally fresh, agricultural and stormwater runoff is one threat to the drinking water in the Mineral Point area, the specialist said. He recommended subsidizing rain barrels and creating a rain garden, which catches runoff and filters the water before pollutants can enter storm drains.

Trinity sold all of the discounted rain barrels it offered, and Stenson said she has been encouraged by the response.

“The community is small and our church is even smaller, so the idea was not to pay attention to how many people were coming through the doors on Sunday morning,” she said. “The idea was, what can Trinity do to present itself to the community?”

She is upfront in saying one of the most important lessons the congregation has learned in the past year is how to market its outreach to the community. “There’s a lot that we have to share to people, but if nobody’s listening then you’re not sharing,” she said.

Trinity’s first big step was hosting the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, held Sept. 9 at the Mineral Point Opera House. It featured several short films on environmental issues and drew a crowd of about 200 people.

The turnout reflected a diversity of backgrounds in Mineral Point and the nearby Dodgeville, which Trinity also serves. Mineral Point has a growing arts community, Backstrand said. At the same time, the cities are surrounded by farmland and rural life, and some families have lived in the area for generations. Others are relative newcomers, drawn by the “diversity of music and art and also the small-town feel.”

“So we have people with small-town backgrounds with long-term history here. And some of the people are in both worlds,” he said. “It’s a unique place.”

Backstrand developed his love of the natural world growing up in Oregon, with its great forests and mountain ranges, and his uncle also had a farm. Backstrand and his wife lived for several years on their own farm in Lafayette County, Wisconsin, before moving to Mineral Point in 2015 when he became rector.

The love of the environment that he and his wife share soon rubbed off on the Trinity congregation.

“We care about these things, and others in the church responded,” Backstrand said.

The congregation plans to expand its film series to three nights this September and invite a Native American storyteller to speak, as well.

In the meantime, Backstrand and the congregation look forward this week to hosting Floberg, the South Dakota priest, first at a series of small events and then at a larger public event April 28 in the Opera House. Floberg also will join the congregation for Eucharist the following day.

After the Eucharist, the church will hold a ceremony to bless the church’s own rain barrels, and residents who bought their discounted rain barrels from Trinity this month can have them blessed, too. Backstrand also has offered to bless the barrels during home visits.

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

New archbishop of South Sudan announces decade-long focus on Lord’s Prayer

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 11:40am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Thousands of Christians descended on All Saint’s Cathedral in Juba on April 22 for the installation of Justin Badi Arama as the fifth archbishop and primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan. The new archbishop used the occasion to announce a decade-long focus on the Lord’s prayer as a tool for making and teaching disciples. He wanted Anglicans in South Sudan “to do the Lord’s Prayer and to live the Lord’s Prayer in their daily lives.”

Read the full article here.

Episcopal Church needs to change approach to substance abuse, report says

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 4:51pm

The Commission on Impairment and Leadership has made recommendations the Episcopal Church’s ordination, training, transition, deployment, wellness, management and oversight processes. Photo: Getty Images

[Episcopal News Service] It often takes a well-publicized tragedy to activate legislation, and the Episcopal Church is no exception.

After then-Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook, who was driving and texting while drunk, killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo in December 2014, the church has taken a deeper look at the way it handles impairment of various kinds at every level and stage. The church’s culture surrounding alcohol also has faced scrutiny. Cook had a prior drunken-driving charge in 2010.

About three months after the fatal crash, the church’s Executive Council affirmed a House of Bishop resolution calling for the creation of what became known as the Commission on Impairment and Leadership, and provided funding for the work. The group was charged with exploring “the canonical, environmental, behavioral and procedural dimensions of matters involving the serious impairment of individuals serving as leaders in the church, with special attention to issues of addiction and substance abuse.” 

A year after turning in the report to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the report became public in March of this year. Executive Council received the report before the start of its April 21-23 meeting in Austin, Texas. Curry summarized the group’s work during council’s opening session.

“How do we respond when leaders are impaired in a variety of ways; how do we effectively respond as the community of faith?” Curry said about the focus of the report’s recommendations. That response, he said, also needs to consider how the church can practice prevention by doing things that “foster health and wholeness, and that can screen, as best we can, for problems that may emerge.”

Curry said that some of the recommendations are already being implemented by his Office of Pastoral Development, which assists dioceses in bishop elections and disciplinary issues, as well as providing in pastoral care and training for bishops. The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, the bishop in charge of that office, will brief the council in more detail at its January meeting, Curry said.

In one such change that has already happened, the presiding bishop said his office has a new consulting psychiatrist to help improve the existing psychiatric and psychological screening process for bishop candidates. Dioceses are in charge of their own search and election processes. While Curry’s office cannot require dioceses to do so, he said the staff is encouraging dioceses “as strongly as we can” to do those screenings before an election, perhaps when the slate of candidates is chosen.

Dioceses are responding well to that suggestion, Curry said. Dr. Kevin Kelly, who is also the New York Fire Department’s consulting psychiatrist, has 30 such assessments to do in the next six months, the presiding bishop said.

At the same meeting, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies and council vice president, said several members of the impairment commission will serve on General Convention’s legislative committee on church-wide leadership. Jennings has asked the deputy members to consider drafting resolutions that pertain to parts of the report’s recommendation that have not been addressed elsewhere.

The report summarized the commission’s work and makes recommendations about the church’s ordination, training, transition, deployment, wellness, management and oversight processes. The report focuses on substance abuse, while also acknowledging behavior patterns and mental health issues may also lead to impairment.

The 29-page report is now available online in English here and in Spanish here.

“We are recommending actions that promote a significant cultural shift in the Episcopal Church,” the commissioners wrote. “These recommendations address the problem of impaired leaders, but they also diagnose and suggest treatment for an impaired system that maintains denial and helplessness toward addiction, mental illness and physical disease.”

The Rev. Jan Brown leads a workshop in October 2017 at the Gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, an annual networking meeting held by Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. Photo: Holly Cardone

At the 78th General Convention, held June 25-July 3, 2015, the Special Legislative Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse recommended three resolutions, all of which passed after some revisions.

“Our church culture too often avoids hard conversations about alcohol use, and the role of forgiveness and compassion in healing and recovery,” Resolution A158, titled “Adopt Policy on Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse,” states. 

(The other two resolutions were A159: Promote a Healing Ministry to Those Affected by Addiction and D014: Evaluate Individuals in the Ordination Process for Addiction Concerns.)

The Very Rev. Steven L. Thomason was chairman of the legislative committee, as well as a member of the impairment commission. He is the dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, as well as a physician who was once the medical director overseeing a large group of doctors. 

“So, I had experience dealing with physicians who had impairment; I’d usually come out of it from an advocate point of view, dealing with state medical board, seeing how they can get help,” Thomason told Episcopal News Service. “As a physician, I recognize addiction as a disease much the way I’d recognize diabetes or high blood pressure. And we don’t apply moral judgement on those other diseases; it’s about how we can be supportive as they struggle with that and find their way into healthier waters. That’s what the church is called to do.”

Practicing moderation is not a viable option for those whose alcohol use has gone beyond abuse and into addiction, which is a medically recognized disease. Photo: Getty Images

True, clergy struggling with substance abuse or addiction risk disappointing their congregations, facing disciplinary action or possibly losing their jobs, but factors that often prevent alcoholics or addicts from seeking help aren’t unique to clergy, he emphasized.

“Yes, it is difficult for leaders, but I don’t want to suggest that it’s somehow a harder road for a priest as it is for anyone,” Thomason said. “Everyone who has this disease experiences it in his or her own unique way. It’s just hard.”

What the commission found

In the same way that an alcoholic has to first acknowledge the problem in order to solve it, commission members had to dig into what the difficulties are within the church relating to impairment.

To do this, they looked at drinking and drug-related convention resolutions dating back to the 1970s, interviewed people involved in other impairment cases church-wide and looked at procedures used for handling other impaired professionals, such as airline pilots, doctors and lawyers.

They also relied on research into the dynamics and treatment of addiction, and turned to Christian theological tradition.

Several dioceses and churches are re-examining their policies on the way alcohol is presented at church events and meetings. Photo: Getty Images

To “uncover both individual and systemic failures that led to negative outcomes” in their case studies, the commission said it used the model for in-depth forensic accident investigations originally developed by the National Transportation Safety Board for accidents in the airline industry.

“We did feel that there are definitely systemic changes in the church that need to be addressed,” the Very Rev. Martha J. Horne, commission chairwoman and dean and president emerita of Virginia Theological Seminary, told ENS. 

The commission found that some Episcopal dioceses and congregations are proactive, while others are not, she said. On the plus side, when Horne was undergoing her ordination process more than 35 years ago in Virginia, the then-bishop of Virginia was very open about being in recovery. He required anyone going through ordination to go through alcohol awareness training, and the seminary had a required course in addiction, Horne said.

On the minus side, the commission said it observed “how the isolation of leaders and the authority structures within and among dioceses can work together with the denial and codependence that are typical of addiction to prevent identification and treatment of impairment.”

A key conflict is the tension between the right to privacy and accountability to the church and community, according to the report. There’s a need to distinguish between loyalty and responsibility, commissioners wrote. Fear of exposure to liability, as individuals and as a corporate body, is another reason impaired people, or those affected by them, avoid action. The report stated that case studies revealed often an “underdeveloped theology of forgiveness” can allow substance abusers to repeat their behaviors without consequences.

Still, the commission asserts that many impairment issues would be better addressed with a ministry canon rather than a disciplinary one, to provide more opportunities for recovery, reconciliation and healing.

In each impaired leadership situation that the commission studied, those interviewed described the same four experiences: isolation, disempowerment, mistrust and guilt.

The report’s recommendations

The commission identifies five key phases of ministry that present opportunities for preventive measures and effective responses throughout the lifespan of ordained leadership in the church. These include:

  • The discernment and screening process for ordination and episcopal elections; 

  • the training and formation process for those preparing for ordination and for newly elected bishops;
  • the transition and deployment process for clergy of all orders;

  • self-care and wellness practices (including CREDO) for deacons, priests and bishops; 

  • and ongoing management and oversight of all clergy, including bishops, particularly with regard to evaluation and licensing.

Details on the recommendations are here.

As bishop of the Office of Pastoral Development, Ousley is right in the thick of this issue. He’s been counseling more bishops lately about impairment issues, bishops asking whether a cleric should continue, how they should serve that cleric and about the cleric’s ability to serve, Ousley told ENS.

“We’ve worked really hard in the church to create an environment where you can come and ask questions, speak the truth and expect the support you need. We want that throughout all the dioceses and on the congregational level,” Ousley said. “We’re about fostering healthy spiritual community; that means meeting people where they are, challenging them and holding them accountable and getting them the help they need either individually or community-wide.”

The Rev. John Christopher, Pastor Tom Weller, the Rev. Steve Lane and the Rev. Lisa Kirby participated in discussions at the Gathering in October 2017, an annual program hosted by Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. Photo: Holly Cardone

When it comes to discernment and screening for ordinations, “we have to ask questions differently to assess whether they’re in addiction or recovery,” and if they are in recovery, whether the longevity of their sobriety can support the major changes that ordination brings, Ousley said. While relapse is always a possibility no matter how many years in recovery, some experts say three years of active work in a recovery program may be enough to be considered for leadership roles, while others assert 10 years is needed. The answer may also depend on the person and situation, Ousley said. After her first drunken-driving charge in September 2010, Cook had one year of sobriety before relapsing, her defense attorney said at her October 2015 sentencing

Activating GC2015 resolutions at the grassroots level

The solution is not limited to making better policies, whether more resolutions at the next General Convention or canon revisions, according to the report.

Horne said members were clear that the commission’s charge was to explore and examine issues of addiction as they pertain to the church and present a report to Curry, not to craft resolutions or propose canonical changes.

“The commission cannot state strongly enough our belief that legislation and policy alone cannot accomplish the greater cultural shift required in our church to address issues of addiction and substance abuse,” the report states. “We believe firmly that the health and wellbeing of our church invites a more concerted, broad-based, grassroots effort.”

Meanwhile, at least two groups that report to the General Convention — the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons and the Task Force on the Episcopacy — already have filed resolutions that address some of the same areas that concerned the commission. Specifics are in an ENS article on the commission’s recommendations.

Despite the 2015 resolutions falling in line with a history of impairment resolutions using soft language such as “encourage” rather than “require,” Episcopalians have been working to make these most recent resolutions matter in their congregations and dioceses.

St. Mark’s vestry in Washington has adopted the convention’s Resolution A158 on alcohol policy “word for word,” Thomason said, because it was more robust than their old policy.

Resolution A159 encourages dioceses to work more with Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, a church-wide ministry for networking for clergy and lay people, providing resources, education and awareness. The organization holds an annual gathering to provide networking and support for those doing recovery work within the Episcopal Church. The next gathering is Sept. 26-29, in Asheville, North Carolina. 

At the October 2017 gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, Eleanor Stromberger received the Sam Shoemaker Award for her grassroots work. She’s been active in recovery in San Antonio, in the Diocese of West Texas and the nation, leading recovery commissions and hosting gatherings, doing much legwork. 

“I believe that each one of us who does the work of recovery ministry serves as a doorkeeper for the wisdom, healing and recovery about which the larger church needs to know,” Stromberger said as she received her award. “And trust me, we will always have a mission field in which to work.”

Support, hope and healing

Despite its failings with this issue, the Episcopal Church has a rich history in recovery, said the Rev. Ben Nelson, the new president of the board of Recovery Ministries.

“We’re connected to Bill W. [co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous]. He got sober when he met with a friend named Ebby, who got sober with the Oxford Group, which was led by an Episcopal priest named Sam Shoemaker,” Nelson told ENS, which explains the name of the award Stromberger received. “I think the 12-step movement is really a great spiritual movement, and the Episcopal Church has been present since the beginning. When we’re at our best, this is who we can be.”

The Rev. Holly Cardone, Sandy Blaine and the Rev. Ben Nelson attended the Gathering, a meeting for those who do substance abuse recovery work within the Episcopal Church. Clergy and lay leaders meet to swap ideas, tips and provide support to one another in their own recovery ministries. Photo courtesy of Holly Cardone

Nelson is also rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Marcos, Texas, and co-chairman of the Recovery Commission in the Diocese of West Texas.  The commission is revisiting the alcohol policy of the diocese to see how it compares to the 15-point policy in Resolution A158, he said.

For anyone, cleric or lay person, who wants help, Nelson first recommends Alcoholics Anonymous. Al-Anon provides the same support, but for family and friends worried about someone with a drinking problem. There are 12-step meetings for other addictions as well, from Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

Many churches offer their facilities for 12-step meetings, and clergy can seek meetings outside their own community to feel safe enough to share honestly while protecting their anonymity, Nelson said.

The Episcopal Church is the first mainline church to have an official prayer for victims of addiction, which is in the Book of Common Prayer, Nelson said. People also can order liturgical templates for a Recovery Eucharist on one of Recovery Ministries’ pages.

“Many people go to clergy asking for help, and there is a responsibility to help. And if clergy need help, I think it’s the responsibility for the diocese to help. We’d put them in touch with people who might help, possibly in-patient, out-patient, 12-step or therapeutic help,” Nelson told ENS.

“It takes a diocese that says, ‘We can walk you through this. There can be a process so that you don’t have to lose everything to get well. You’re responsible for what happens in your own life, but there is help.’”

— 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. The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, ENS interim managing editor, contributed to this report.


Key commission recommendations for the Episcopal Church on substance abuse

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 4:50pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Commission on Impairment and Leadership created a list of 13 detailed recommendations for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and others to consider when tackling the pressing issues of alcohol and substance abuse prevention and intervention within the church.

(Details about the commission’s report and information about efforts to implement some of the recommendations are available in an Episcopal News Service story here.)

These are some of the key points among the recommendations, edited for brevity.

  • We recommend that the presiding bishop and president of the House of Deputies commission a task force or other group to develop a more complete process of screening people applying for ordination about their history and experience with alcohol and substance abuse. Bishops and commissions on ministry would benefit from education and training in how best to evaluate applicants with a history of addiction who are now living in recovery. In a related action, the Task Force on the Episcopacy has filed Resolution A148, which calls for amending the church’s canons on ministry to further define the substance of background checks required for bishop election nominees. The amendment requires that nominees be evaluated for substance, chemical and alcohol use and abuse.
  • We recommend that the Executive Council and the General Convention take necessary steps to develop and implement a required alcohol and substance abuse training program for all persons in the process of formation for ordination and for those already ordained. As in other professions, clergy should be required to repeat this training at designated intervals in order to maintain their license.
  • We recommend that the Church Pension Group (CPG), in its function as recorder of ordinations, establish a central personnel database to track clergy employment, discipline, issues with impairment and other related background information for all clergy in the church that can be accessed during search and transition processes. The Standing Commission on Governance, Structure, Constitution and Canons has filed Resolution A120 calling for the Archives of the Episcopal Church to create a secure database registry to track clergy discipline data to provide statistical information. In its current proposed form, such a database would not track specific incidents by name. 
  • We recommend that the College for Bishops develop a substantive training component on addiction and substance abuse to be incorporated into the “Living Our Vows” program for new bishops that would include several components. We recommend that the House of Bishops incorporate into its meetings an ongoing process to address the same areas.
  • We recommend that the bishop with oversight of the Office for Pastoral Development, drawing on the research from this commission, establish a standardized process for conducting episcopal elections, based on best practices so that it can be tailored to meet the particular characteristics of a given diocese and that doing so can ensure that the key components to effective screening and discernment will not be lost in the process. The Task Force on the Episcopacy has filed Resolution A142  and Resolution A145 calling for dioceses to develop processes for bishop elections that are consistent with the task force’s recommendations. 
  • We recommend that the presiding bishop, drawing on the research of this commission, establish a team to serve as a resource on alcoholism and other forms of addiction to provide a rapid response to issues of questionable impairment, to provide clergy or other concerned individuals with confidential advice, and to assist with monitoring, recovery and re-entry into ministry.
  • We recommend that CREDO develop a program component to help participants explore their relationship to alcohol, drugs and other addictive substances and behaviors.
  • We recommend that the Pastoral Development Committee of the House of Bishops, working with a knowledgeable and skilled advisor, as well as the Executive Council, evaluate the policies and practices of meetings, as well as the meetings of its commissions, committees and boards, to recommend changes that may contribute to a healthy environment with regard to alcohol and addiction.
  • We recommend that the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies appoint a working group to conduct a review of the canons of the church and to identify canonical impediments to the effective pastoral response, intervention and treatment of addiction and substance abuse. This working group should report its findings and recommendations to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons, for review and action.

— 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. The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, ENS interim managing editor, contributed to this report.

‘Flyover Church’ campaign invites clergy seeking calls to give Middle America a closer look

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 3:57pm

[Episcopal News Service] It’s a term typically uttered with a tone of dismissiveness: Flyover Country.

You know, that nondescript middle part of the United States that you have to fly over to get from one lively and exciting coast to the other. But the great American middle is actually a lot more lively and exciting – and spiritually rich – than the “flyover” stereotypes suggest, according to Episcopal transition ministers who are taking a lighthearted new approach to recruiting clergy to their dioceses.

They’ve dubbed their campaign Flyover Church, and they see it as a way of reclaiming that epithet, by using local examples, compelling personal stories and an upbeat marketing plan to encourage more priests to consider religious calls in the center of the country.

“We want to tell the church that what we have going on here is just as exciting as what’s going on the coasts,” said the Rev. Michael Spencer, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Eastern Michigan.

Spencer and the other transition ministers behind the Flyover Church campaign are careful not to present their efforts as a competition with other dioceses. There are worthwhile calls in every part of the country, they say, and they hope this campaign will catch the attention of people who otherwise would never have considered moving to a place like Flint, Michigan, or Omaha, Nebraska.

“Many of us found our way here from other places,” said the Rev. Liz Easton, the Diocese of Nebraska canon to the ordinary. She is a Seattle native and part of the team behind Flyover Church. “It was sort of a mystery: How can we help tell the story of this place where good work is being done and Jesus is being met and served?”

The Flyover Church website combines a list of calls at partner dioceses with personal testimonials about why those seeking calls should consider the region.

What exactly is Flyover Church? At this point, it’s primarily a website, flyoverchurch.org, that offers a list of calls at some of the participating dioceses. So far, those dioceses number 13: Arkansas, Eastern Michigan, Kansas, Kentucky, Lexington, Michigan, Milwaukee, Missouri, Nebraska, Northern Indiana, Ohio, Southern Ohio and Western North Carolina. Spencer is in talks with additional dioceses to join the campaign.

“Ministry in Flyover Country is unlike – and exactly like – ministry in other parts of the world,” is how the campaign introduces itself on the website.

Flyover Church also offers a platform for sharing homespun testimonials from some of those dioceses. A post by the Rev. Torey Lightcap, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Kansas, is playfully titled “The Middle: Not the Sameness You Were Looking For.”

“Every week I get to meet people who are eager to make the church go and to put Christ’s words into action,” Lightcap writes. “Everywhere you stop and look there are faithful, entrepreneurial Episcopalians who are getting the job done. You’ll find that your priestly ministry is every bit as valuable and necessary and appreciated to these wonderful people as it is anywhere else.”

The challenge of finding candidates to fill calls, of course, is felt across the Episcopal Church, regardless of geographic region. “The number of applicants for clergy positions will be fewer than in years gone by,” a 2016 report by the Board of Transition Ministry noted, and “clergy are less willing or able to relocate.”

Such trends have become a common topic at the biannual meetings of diocesan transition ministers from the three Episcopal provinces in the center of the country. Spencer was part of those conversations, as well as similar discussions among a group of canons to the ordinary, many of whom were also transition ministers.

Years ago, Spencer said, eight to 10 priests would have applied for an open call, giving the parish search committee plenty of candidates to choose from. Now, those committees may only have two or three candidates – sometimes just one.

Flyover Church also has a Twitter account, twitter.com/flyoverchurch.

Members of the transition ministers group and and canons to the ordinary group put their heads together and came up with Flyover Church as an effort to turn those numbers around by touting the unique appeal of ministry and life in these dioceses. Quality of life and low cost of living are among the selling points. The website boasts that these 13 dioceses have 19 research universities, 72 national parks and one “mitten-shaped” state.

The state that looks like a mitten is Spencer’s own Michigan.

“It’s one of the states where, once you’ve been here, you fall in love and it’s probably difficult to imagine life anywhere else,” he said.

But he and other transition ministers also want to convey the ministry potential embedded in the diversity of their communities, from small towns and farmlands to cities and suburbs. These places have unique challenges, which can become opportunities for priests to bring Jesus’ love to people who need it most.

Spencer cited the example of Flint, now known as a ghost town of auto industry downsizing and, more recently, for its contaminated water crisis.

“There is stark need for the kingdom to be built here,” he said.

The Rev. Meghan Froehlich, director of the Episcopal Church’s Office for Transition Ministry, said the church is supportive of Flyover Church and any grassroots campaign aimed at raising the profile of the many communities with open calls.

“Anything that helps people be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in their call is really valuable,” Froehlich said.

Spencer said Flyover Church aims to complement the work of the Office of Transition Ministry, not duplicate it. And Froehlich said knocking down geographic stereotypes is a worthwhile goal.

“It can be easy to think that we know about a place from stereotypes or assumptions,” she said. “I think it’s better if we have more information.” The Flyover Church website highlights the “vibrant ministry and the unique gifts of this part of the country.”

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

Faith leaders in Australia unite to oppose plans for new coal mine

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 1:17pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] More than 50 religious leaders from across Australia have called on Gautam Adani, chairman and founder of the Adani Group, to abandon plans to build a new coal mine in Northern Queensland.

In an open letter delivered on April 18 to representatives of the Adani Group at their Townsville office, the coalition – including Anglicans Bishop Philip Huggins of the Diocese of Melbourne and Dean of Brisbane’s Cathedral Peter Catt – said they oppose all new coal mining in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The faith leaders argued that the environmental impact of a new mine would be “too great,” while the economic rationale was “grasping at short-term profits from a thermal coal industry in worldwide structural decline” and could not provide the long-term jobs the region needs. Instead, they urged Adani to invest his company’s wealth into renewable energies.

Read the full article here.

Anglican, Lutheran leaders in Canada ask for Earth Day prayers and action

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 1:05pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] In a joint statement, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Mark MacDonald, National Anglican Indigenous Bishop, and the Rev. Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, invited people to join them in praying “for the humility and discipline to use Earth’s resources wisely and responsibly” on Earth Day, April 22.

Read the full article here.

British bishop welcomes proposed plastic ban

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 1:02pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop of Salisbury Nicholas Holtam recently spoke in favor of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s potential plan to ban a number of single-use plastic products. Holtan went on to encourage the U.K. to swap the use of cheap plastic with more sustainable alternatives, calling it a “no-brainer.”

Read the full article here.

Archbishop of Canterbury breaks ground on new library

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 1:00pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Work began on a new, bigger library at Lambeth Palace on April 20 when Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby symbolically “broke ground” for the building.

It is the first new building at the Palace in more than 100 years. The new library will bring together what’s thought to be one of the largest historical ecclesiastical book collections outside the Vatican. There will also be easier access for the public to see these treasures.

Read the full article here.

Presiding Bishop offers tribute to Barbara Bush

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 10:47am

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] The following statement from Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is in tribute to Former First Lady Barbara Bush.

The funeral for former first lady Barbara Bush, shown during her White House days, will be April 21 at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. Photo: White House

Today and tomorrow, as the Bush family and the nation they have served so faithfully give thanks for the life and witness of Mrs. Barbara Bush, we of the Episcopal Church likewise give God thanks for her life and her witness to us. While her husband President Bush, her family, friends and colleagues know this more intimately than those of us who only knew her from afar, we saw in her a witness to the virtues of personal integrity, devotion to family, commitment to speak truth come what may, and service to her country and to the well-being of the breadth of the human family of God. Because of her commitment to literacy, there are many today who behold new worlds and have hope because of the written word. And, because of her life and real faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and his way of love, we have beheld a great soul, and have hope that we can live likewise.

May the soul of Barbara and the souls of all the departed, through the mercies of God, rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
The Episcopal Church

Episcopalians balance fear with preparation in the wake of U.S. mass shootings

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 5:57pm

The Rev. Mike Angell, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, speaks at an April 11 ecumenical unity press conference. Photo: Fred Koenig

[Episcopal News Service] As Americans reel from the rising number of mass shootings, the possibility of such violence happening at any gathering anywhere seems more real.

To cope, Episcopalians have relied on  efforts to balance preparing for the worst with their faith. The most recent tragedy — the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people  — mobilized youth nationwide to fight for better gun-violence prevention laws with marches and protests, Episcopal youth included.

“We’re trying very hard not to encourage hysteria, but we want to be prepared,” said the Rev. Kate Atkinson, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which is across the street from the state house in Concord, New Hampshire. “Who knows what the dangerous person will look like? We have to be vigilant but not frightened. I refuse to be frightened. But at the same time, I am responsible for my parish and I don’t want anything to happen to them.”

Numbers vary depending on how a mass shooting is defined. Often the term requires three or more deaths. Regardless, 2017 was called the deadliest year for mass killings in a decade, totaling 208 deaths shortly after the Nov. 5 shooting that killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

If the Feb. 14 school shooting is any indication, 2018 won’t be much better. Meanwhile, Episcopal leaders are striving to comfort and calm their congregations while also examining ways to prepare for the worst.

Before those 26 people were gunned down in the Texas church, the closest mass church shooting killed nine people on June 17, 2015, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Three people died in a May 3, 2012 shooting at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Maryland. The assumed assailant was a homeless man who used the church’s soup kitchen, who police believe committed suicide by shooting himself afterward.

The church’s warden at the time, Craig Stuart-Paul, later pledged that the parish’s ministry would continue, “and we won’t do it from behind bulletproof glass.”

Many plans, procedures and technologies are already in place, but Episcopalians are being made more aware of them. Vestries are updating their emergency plans. Some priests and bishops are participating in gun violence seminars, workshops and other trainings. Still others are fighting state gun laws.

Include gun violence in emergency plans

The Church Pension Group’s Safety & Insurance Handbook for Churches, available online, addresses what to do in an emergency involving gun violence.

Quick communication and notification is key, the handbook emphasizes. And depending on church needs and budget, leaders can implement or update their regular security measures to incorporate newer technology, such as buzzed-in entry, automated locking, camera systems and key access. A diocese with a large, metropolitan cathedral often has a security guard.

But it’s more than that.

“As recent devastating events in a wide variety of public places have demonstrated, it’s important to have plans in place to mitigate the risk of violence — and to be able to react appropriately and quickly in case something does happen,” the handbook, written in 2015, states. “You should have a violence preparedness plan, just as you have disaster preparedness plans in case of fires, floods, or tornadoes — and run drills, too, just as you would for a fire or tornado.”

In the Diocese of New Hampshire, at least four churches have hosted active shooter drills or seminars. About 120 people attended a drill on how to deal with active shooter situations at Grace Episcopal Church in Manchester on April 8.

The free drills were led by Blue-U Defense, a group of off-duty or retired law enforcement officers with training experience in preparedness for organizations including churches, Bishop Rob Hirschfeld told Episcopal News Service. The events were hosted by Episcopal churches and were open to people from other faith communities as well.

“I’m encouraged by people coming away from this with a sense of reasonableness; they’re less panicked, more empowered, more aware of the space they’re in and the possibilities to frustrate the intent of those who wish to do harm. And that’s good,” said Hirschfeld, a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence.

“They’re given strategies. We don’t want our people to live in fear. As Marianne Williamson has said, ‘Fear is not a Christian habit of mind,’” he said, quoting the spiritual activist and author.

On April 11, about 45 leaders of area faith communities convened for a Civilian Response to an Active Shooter Event (CRASE) training led by local police at St. Paul’s in Concord. The training was geared toward heightened security, urging faith leaders to be wise about what doors are locked and unlocked, who’s monitoring the building, what’s happening with the children and official response protocol, according to Atkinson, the rector.

The first piece of advice used to be to hide, but now it’s ADD: Avoid, deny and defend, Atkinson said the CRASE experts told them. The first line of action is to try to escape. If that’s not possible, deny access by hiding, barricading and calling 911. If the shooter does reach you, defend yourself however you can, especially as a group.

After that initial seminar, Concord police officers are continuing the training by arranging site visits with each participating religious group to tour the buildings and give tips, Atkinson said. The church safety policy discourages people from bringing in concealed weapons, Atkinson said.

The downtown church serves many visitors in its food pantry, thrift store and clothing bank. Those ministries mean a higher percentage of homeless and mentally ill visitors. But as Atkinson has realized, you never know what the shooter will look like, so you can’t stop doing God’s will.

“A lot of the people we deal with on a daily basis can be frightening, but they’re also frightened, and they need our help,” she told ENS.

At St. Peter’s in Carson City, Nevada, on March 9, representatives from the Carson City Sheriff’s and Fire departments met with parishioners and discussed church safety and active shooter situations, as well as emergency medical situations, fires and earthquakes. The training brought calm assurance to people, Nevada Bishop Dan Edward told ENS.

Donna Bernert, a member of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Eureka, Missouri, organized members of her parish to staff a Lock It for Love booth at the annual Eureka Days celebration on Sept. 8-9. Fifty gun locks were distributed free of charge. The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri has partnered with Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, a St. Louis advocacy organization, in supporting Lock It for Love. Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Missouri

Part of planning for emergencies involves prevention methods, such as distributing gun locks so the guns don’t get in the wrong hands.

St. James Episcopal Church in Keene, New Hampshire, has a social justice ministry that brokered an arrangement between local law enforcement agencies and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an National Rifle Association-affiliated, Second Amendment advocacy group based in Newtown, Connecticut. Despite what Hirschfeld called the chasm between the church and the NRA, the foundation will make these gun locks available to 15 police stations in the Monadnock region of southwestern New Hampshire, he said. It’s called Project ChildSafe, a free national program.

“It’s a little thread across the chasm,” Hirschfeld said.

Carrying guns inside churches — legally

Parallel to the controversial arm-the-teachers solution in schools, proponents of more freedom to carry firearms inside churches say it will enable parishioners to defend themselves and protect others. Otherwise, church members are sitting ducks, they say. That thinking has influenced lawmakers.

Yet the Episcopalians ENS spoke to said trained police often miss their intended targets, so inexperienced civilians will have even less chance of aiming correctly and can make the fatal mistake of shooting an innocent bystander. Plus, when more people are wielding guns, it’s often difficult to tell who the “bad guy” is when law enforcement does arrive to make split-second decisions.

Some Episcopalians, such as those in Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas, are grappling with either existing state laws or proposed amendments that allow firearms in church.

On April 11, Bishop George Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and other Episcopal leaders joined Roman Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Baptist and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America leaders at a press conference decrying the proposed Missouri House Bill 1936 amending a law to expand where concealed weapons are allowed, extending the allowance to churches.

Missouri churches have historically been gun-free zones.

As the law states now, a person must receive special permission from clergy to carry a concealed weapon on church property. The new law would allow someone to carry a concealed weapon inside a church or other religious institution unless a sign banning weapons is prominently displayed. The sign must be at least 11 by 14 inches with writing that is at least 1 inch tall, according to the bill.

The Rev. Mike Angell helped organize the ecumenical press conference.

This proposed gun legislation has galvanized a rare show of unity among faith communities that normally disagree, he said. The various participating faith leaders argue that the proposed state amendment is a radical expansion of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, at the expense of their First Amendment right of religious freedom. Throughout history, religious groups have fought wars over what was displayed inside houses of worship, Angell said. And to have to post government-regulation signs that in order to preserve the sanctuary of these faith centers is “offensive,” he said, and the faith communities were not even consulted during the legislative process.

“We do believe people have a right to responsible gun ownership. Several bishops are gun owners,” Angell told ENS. “But this is a radical redefinition of what the Second Amendment means. It would also allow guns in day care centers, bars and schools. That’s problematic. We don’t operate a bar, but we operate all those others.”

Angell is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, which rents out some of its facilities to a children’s music school, AA groups and other community activities. The vestry is examining new emergency plans and active-shooter training possibilities.

“We’re looking at all sorts of ways to update those emergencies procedures. We’ve been asked by some of our tenants, really since the Parkland school shooting and the Texas church shooting,” he said.

As the bishop’s deputy for gun violence prevention, the Rev. Marc Smith uses his 10 years’ experience as the former president of the Missouri Hospital Association to come at the problem from a public health perspective. He’s been working on six initiatives since his appointment almost three years ago.

The Rev. Anne Kelsey and the Rev. Marc Smith, the Missouri bishop’s deputy for gun violence prevention, protest with signs during the St. Louis March for Our Lives on March 24. Photo: the Rev. Paula Hartsfield

While other Episcopal churches and diocese across the United States have undertaken several similar initiatives such as awareness campaigns and gun lock distributions, two of the most cutting-edge initiatives that Smith hasn’t noticed elsewhere involve training clergy and creating a curriculum.

First, a partnership with Washington University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and the Walker Leadership Institute at Eden Seminary has helped develop and present seminars to equip clergy and laity to care for the victims of gun violence. Smith has conducted seminars regularly with crime victim care organizations, as well as seminars at Eden Theological Seminary and Concordia Seminary.

Second, Smith is creating a six-module curriculum for use by faith communities to explore the many forms of violence in American culture and the church’s responsibility for responding to them: violence in scripture; America as a culture of violence; gun violence; domestic abuse and sexual violence; bullying and suicide; and reconciliation and forgiveness. He’s invited experts in each area to share on instructional videos, and the curriculum will be online.

Smith also wrote a litany for victims of gun violence, available online.

In November of 2012, Bishop Edward J. Konieczny issued a policy for every organization in the Diocese of Oklahoma, in direct contrast to the just-passed Oklahoma Self-Defense Act/Open Carry Law. The law says no person, property owner, tenant, employer or business entity can make a policy prohibiting anyone, except a convicted felon, from carrying a weapon on premises.

That did not stop Konieczny, a former Southern California police officer.

He wrote: “As such, after careful review, the policy of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma is to prohibit any weapon inside any building owned or occupied by the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, Episcopal churches, Episcopal schools or institutions, and Episcopal camp and conference centers.”

The bishop’s exceptions included government employees acting in their capacity to do so, security officers for special events and organized training or sporting events such as skeet shooting. Any other exception would require prior written approval from the bishop.

Konieczny has his own concealed weapon permit, and told the crowd at the April 2014 Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: an Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence conference hosted in his diocese that he has been called “the gun-toting bishop.”

“By any definition of the word, the frequency of violent acts in our society is of epidemic proportion,” he told the conference members. “I am not willing to accept that we are destined to suffer the tragedies that have plagued our society. Instead, I am convinced that we can change judgmental attitudes, intolerant behaviors and the violence in our society.”

After the Feb. 25, 2016, shootings in Hesston and Newton, Kansas, that killed three people, Episcopal Diocese of Kansas’ then-Bishop Dean Wolfe and Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas Bishop Michael Milliken issued a pastoral directive banning firearms from Episcopal churches in the state, unless they are carried by designated law enforcement officials in the line of duty.

In a letter sent to all churches, the bishops said the state law amendments reversed long-standing law and practice. The changes allowing anyone to bring guns into a church, they wrote, “unnecessarily endanger the citizens of our state and the members of our parishes.”

Protecting the young

Churches often have day care centers and primary schools on their premises, which call to mind how the response of adults can affect some of the most vulnerable populations.

Nevada Bishop Dan Edward said the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and school shooting in Parkland, Florida, have had more impact on churches in his diocese than an Oct. 1 shooting at a Las Vegas country music concert that killed 58 people. That mass shooting caused an outpouring of compassion, he told ENS, but the Parkland school shooting mobilized youth across his diocese in marches and protests. At the Las Vegas March for Our Lives in March, survivors of the October shooting, as well as gun violence victims in domestic abuse and LGBTQ hate crimes, spoke.

Prevention of gun violence and caring intervention for its victims are key to maintaining a safe, holy sanctuary, Episcopal leaders say. They’re taking action, while keeping in mind their higher calling in the Christian faith. They must stay reasonable, these priests and bishops told ENS.

It’s good to remember that there is an extremely low likelihood of people being killed or injured in mass shootings, and even more so in churches; they’re taking far greater risk getting in their cars and driving on the highway, Edward said.

“That doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to us, but we live in faith. Our call in facing violence is to respond nonviolently,” Edward said. “The most frequent command Jesus gave us was ‘Do not be afraid.’ Not that we shouldn’t feel fear, but don’t live in fear and let it have you, to control our lives.”

“Instead, let our faith control our lives.”

— 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

Washington National Cathedral mourns the loss of former first lady Barbara Bush

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 5:45pm

[Washington National Cathedral] The Very Rev. Randolph ‘Randy’ Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, released the following statement and offered a prayer on the death of First Lady Barbara Bush.

“Washington National Cathedral joins the nation in mourning the loss of former First Lady Barbara Bush, and we extend our heartfelt prayers to President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush and the entire Bush family in their time of sorrow,” said Dean Hollerith.

“As a wife, mother and grandmother, she became in many ways a beloved matriarch to Americans from all walks of life, and she enriched the lives of everyone she touched with compassion, humor and graciousness.

“Through her work on literacy, Mrs. Bush became among the brightest of the ‘thousand points of light,’ serving as an example in her husband’s initiative to extend volunteerism and community engagement. She was a living example of faithfulness, both to her family and to the nation, always facing adversity with grace and courage. Her 73-year marriage to her beloved husband remains a shining example of lifelong love nurtured by selfless devotion and affection.”

Mrs. Bush was a longtime friend of Washington National Cathedral, attending countless services and state occasions, including the 1990 celebration when the final stone was set atop the Cathedral tower. A lifetime Episcopalian, Mrs. Bush exemplified the values of her favorite scripture, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“I have great respect for people of other faiths who believe in a greater being and live a life that is based on kindness and generosity,” she said in a 2012 interview with Cathedral Age magazine.

“Together with all the saints in glory, we give thanks for the life of Barbara Pierce Bush and pray that the gates of heaven will be opened wide to this kind and generous child of God.”

“Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Barbara. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.Watch the latest video at foxnews.com

New Jersey court rules churches can’t receive county’s historic preservation money

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 5:17pm

Early progress is seen in the slate roof replacement project at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, in this photo posted to the church’s Facebook page on Oct. 12.

[Episcopal News Service] It was an offer too good for a congregation to refuse.

Need your church tower preserved? Your roof replaced? Your parish house restored? Morris County, New Jersey, was ready to help, with a historic preservation grant program offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in upkeep assistance for a range of properties, including houses of worship.

The problem: Such direct taxpayer assistance to churches violated the state constitution, the New Jersey Supreme Court has concluded, ruling April 18 against a list of defendants that includes 12 churches, three of them Episcopal churches.

The potential financial ramifications for Morris County churches are significant. The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, as one prominent example, received a $294,000 grant in 2013 to restore its 1926 parish house and an additional $272,000 in 2015 to restore the church’s slate roof. The court did not require Church of the Redeemer and the other 11 churches named in the lawsuit to repay the $4.6 million they received over four years, but the county is barred from awarding money to churches in the future.

“The historic preservation grant we received saved our bacon,” Donald MacGowan, senior warden at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Mountain Lakes, told Episcopal News Service. The church, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, spent $450,000 on a new slate roof, including $262,000 from the county fund.

“I have absolutely no idea what we would have done without their help.”

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religious Foundation and a Morris County resident sued in 2015, arguing that the grant program was in clear violation of the Religious Aid Clause in the New Jersey Constitution. The county and churches countered that the grants were legal because they advanced the public’s interest in historic preservation and that excluding churches from such a program would violate the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protection of religious freedom.

Taxes, the state Constitution says, can’t be used “for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry.”

Morris County’s Historic Preservation Trust Fund was created after a 2002 voter referendum. Its goal was to support acquisition and preservation of historic sites and facilities, and in nearly 16 years it has awarded millions of dollars to a variety of sites, including numerous churches.

“In Morris County, as in all counties in New Jersey and across the nation, churches and other religious buildings are a vital part of the historic fabric of where we live, interwoven in the history of how our county, state and nation developed,” Morris County Administrator John Bonanni said in a statement released after the state Supreme Court ruling.

“We believe historic churches are a strong component of that overall rich history, and we have considered churches – only those eligible for the State or National Registers of Historic Places – among historic sites that have been eligible for consideration by the county’s historic preservation grant program.”

The Church of the Redeemer received construction grants in 2013 and 2015. A county news release noted the church’s 2013 grant was the fund’s largest of the year. A 2015 news release touted the 1917 church’s Gothic Revival style, its architectural pedigree and its place on state and national historic registers.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, another church named in the lawsuit, received a 2012 grant of $428,000 to preserve the interior of its church tower. The state Supreme Court noted the church’s application explicitly connected the project to the congregation’s ability to worship safely in the building.

“These are really hard times for houses of worship. And we really do so much for the community,” the Rev. Janet Broderick, rector of St. Peter’s, told MorristownGreen.com after the state Supreme Court ruling.

St. Peter’s in Mountain Lakes received $13,000 in 2015 for a preservation study, another $13,000 in 2016 for “construction documents” and $262,000 in 2017 for roof replacement. That project is detailed in photos posted on the church’s Facebook page.

“Scaffolding came down today!” a Dec. 2 post announces. “The beauty of our new slate roof in time for the beginning of Advent!”

Whatever the beauty of such projects, the state Supreme Court ruled, 7-0, that the county can’t pay for them.

“The plain language of the Religious Aid Clause bars the use of taxpayer funds to repair and restore churches, and Morris County’s program ran afoul of that longstanding provision,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the decision, which reversed a lower court’s decision in favor of the county and churches.

The other question raised by the lawsuit, however, was whether the county program was protected by a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision siding with a Missouri church, Trinity Lutheran, that had applied for state aid for day care playground improvements but was denied.  The New Jersey court ruled that the Morris County program was different because it offered widespread benefits to churches, including for improvements that directly supported the congregations’ spiritual missions.

“It’s shocking that it took a trip to the New Jersey Supreme Court to enforce such a plain constitutional command,” Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a written statement. “New Jersey taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief that their constitutional religious liberty rights have been protected.”

Kenneth Wilber, the attorney representing the churches, disagreed with the court’s conclusion, calling the county grants “a neutral public welfare program.”

“The purpose of these grants is not to aid religion but to advance the government’s secular interest in historic preservation,” Wilber told the Daily Record, invoking the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Trinity Lutheran case.  “Denying churches grants because they are churches, without regard to the purpose of the grant, is exactly the kind of categorical exclusion Trinity Lutheran prohibits.”

MacGowan acknowledged some residents may not be happy with tax dollars being spent on church buildings like St. Peter’s. “On the other hand, there’s a lot of history in Morris County, and it’s integral to who we are,” he said, and to preserve church buildings that embody that history often requires more money than today’s congregations can afford.

“I feel terrible for the [churches] that will not now be able to do this,” he said.

The county and churches could pursue their legal fight in federal court. For now, congregations like St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mendham will have to move forward with any construction projects without the help of Morris County.

“The issue for us, being a smaller congregation, is we don’t have a whole lot of money sitting around,” said the Rev. Shawn Carty, part-time rector of St. Mark’s, which was not a defendant in the court case but received a 2016 county grant of $30,000 to conduct a detailed preservation study.

That study did not identify urgent need at St. Mark’s for any preservation projects on the scale of those carried out by the Episcopal churches named in the lawsuit, though Carty said he would have welcomed county assistance for smaller projects, such as repairing his church’s stained-glass windows.

Carty said the preservation study alone was a significant value for the congregation, with an average Sunday attendance of about 40. Such studies are a county requirement before sites can apply for money for construction projects.

“So, we have a nice binder with lots of historic information about our building,” he said. “It’s unlikely that we would have paid for as significant and thorough a preservation study as was required by this.”

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