Presiding Bishop named religious newsmaker of the year

by mfschjonberg | Monday, December 17, 2018

“Today Show” co-hosts Hoda Kotb, left, and Savannah Guthrie listen Nov. 1 as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry talks about the power of love. It was one of many media interviews Curry gave this year. Photo: “The Today Show”

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church has heard Presiding Bishop Michael Curry herald the message of God’s unconditional love ever since he was elected in July 2015. In May, his message went global and viral when he preached at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and now it has earned him the title of “religious newsmaker of the year.”

The Religion News Association said that Curry’s sermon had “raised his profile as a progressive religious voice.”

That could be an understatement. Curry’s profile beyond the Episcopal Church began to take off the moment his part in the May 19 wedding was announced. Stories attempting to answer the question “who is Michael Curry” abounded.

Then he stepped to the ambo at St. George’s Chapel and began to preach. According to media statisticians, 29.2 million people in the United States and 18 million in the United Kingdom viewed the wedding. And then there was Twitter, where 3.4 million social media users tweeted about the royal wedding. They tweeted 40,000 times a minute during Curry’s sermon, more than the 27,000 tweets per minute during the declaration of Harry and Meghan as husband and wife.

That day “Bishop Michael Curry” was a top “trending topic” on Google with a score of 100 on a scale of 0-100 for daily searches, and “episcopal’ was the top lookup on Merriam Webster.

There was even a spoof of the presiding bishop on “Saturday Night Live” that night, one of the few times that the show has featured a living religious leader.

Since then, Curry has combined his normal travels around the Episcopal Church with a round of media interviews to continue preaching the message of unconditional love. It has been a whirlwind, ranging from multiple appearances on “The Today Show” to “The View” to NPR and more. They were all worked into an already busy schedule of travel within the Episcopal Church, and his more public appearances such as a prayer service and procession of public witness in Washington, D.C., his participation in the Dec. 5 funeral for George H.W. Bush and the Dec. 11 commemoration of the Apollo 8 mission.

These days, it is hard for Curry to walk down the street or through an airport without being recognized and stopped, but it is a phenomenon that he welcomes.

“I was surprised by all the attention after the royal wedding,” Curry recently told “The Today Show’s” Voices series reflecting on what the show called “his viral moment and newfound celebrity.”

“I really didn’t expect that. But what I’ve been more surprised by has been that what resonated was the message of love. It wasn’t me. I mean, I delivered it. But it was actually the message of love. That’s what people have stopped me on the street or at the airport to talk about — after we take the selfie, of course.”

In a year when top religion news stories were about deep suffering and despair, Presiding Bishop Curry’s message of love motivated millions. While some know him only as ‘the wedding preacher,’ his message touched them deeply,” Nancy Davidge, Episcopal Church public affairs officer, told Episcopal News Service. “As Bishop Curry reminds us  it doesn’t look like love, it does not look like Christ.”

About two months after the royal wedding, Curry announced that he had prostate cancer and took about six weeks off for what was successful surgery and treatment.

In October, Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, published “The Power of Love: Sermons, Reflections, and Wisdom to Uplift and Inspire,” which includes the royal wedding sermon, three of Curry’s sermons from General Convention events this past summer and the sermon he preached at his installation on Nov. 2, 2015. “The world has met Bishop Curry and has been moved by his riveting, hopeful, and deceptively simple message: love and acceptance are what we need in these strange times,” the publisher says in its online description.

Religion News Association members have voted in the annual poll for decades. RNA is an international association for journalists who write about religion in the news media. It offers training and tools to help reporters cover religion with balance, accuracy and insight.

Following Curry in a close race for second and third place for religious newsmaker of the year were famed evangelist Billy Graham, who died this year at age 99, and Pittsburgh Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who emerged as a voice of lament and peace after the Tree of Life shooting.

The other four religious newsmakers were Rachael Denhollander, who emerged as an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual misconduct in churches and whose victim-impact statement — balancing justice with forgiveness — at the sentencing of pedophile doctor Larry Nassar went viral; Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who rocked the Catholic Church with hotly disputed contentions that Pope Francis covered up sexual abuse and should resign; Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who drew strong support from religious conservatives in a confirmation dominated by an explosive allegation of attempted rape as a teen, making it a signature case in the #MeToo movement, and megachurch pioneer Bill Hybels, who retired early from Willow Creek Community Church amid accusations of sexual misconduct.

The poll also ranks the top 27 religious news stories of the year. The Pennsylvania grand jury report accusing 301 Catholic priests of sexually abusing at least 1,000 minors led that list, and the poll notes that probes by the U.S. Justice Department and other states began in the wake of that news. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, faulted for his past role as bishop of Pittsburgh, resigned as Washington archbishop because of the report.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

El Paso pilgrimage shines a ‘light of truth’ on migrant humanitarian crisis at the border

by lwilson |

The Rev. Paul Moore, who chairs the Rio Grande Diocese’s Borderland Ministries, interprets for the Rev. Hector Trejo, who serves three Anglican churches in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – El Paso, Texas] Two thousand people are released weekly by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement into the hospitality of Annunciation House here in El Paso.

Many of them are families who have waited their turn to cross the border and request asylum. If Annunciation House had space for 2,500, it would be 2,500, said its founder and director, Ruben Garcia.

The asylees receive food, a bed, a shower, toiletries, a care package and help contacting relatives to arrange travel. Within 48 hours they are placed on buses or airplanes to reunite with family members in other parts of the United States.

“The vast majority of people have someone,” Garcia said.

Mostly, they come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, but some come from Nicaragua, Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, even as far as India. Some are fleeing violence, some come for economic opportunities, others are fleeing religious and other forms of persecution.

Some 30 people representing large urban and suburban Episcopal congregations gathered in Southwest Texas for what they called an “El Paso Pilgrimage.” Here they gather on the Ciudad Juárez side of the border wall separating Mexico and the United States. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

On Dec. 13, some 30 people representing large urban and suburban Episcopal congregations gathered in Southwest Texas for what they called an “El Paso Pilgrimage.” The Rev. Gary Jones, rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, initiated the pilgrimage out of a desire to counter a narrative that vilifies asylum seekers as drug dealers and rapists, when in fact they are fleeing for their lives and their livelihoods.

The pilgrimage’s first stop was Annunciation House, where participants heard a briefing from Garcia, who has worked on the border for 40 years, witnessing and responding to various migrant and refugee surges over the years.

“The phenomenon of refugees is not an El Paso problem, it’s a U.S. problem,” said Garcia.

“Right now, because of [U.S.] enforcement, we are seeing changes that make life miserable,” he said “The border has become a very complicated place.”

When Annunciation House began its ministry 40 years ago, it was primarily serving men who would come to the United States for seasonal work, return home to be with families and later return for work. In 1996, when the last legislative change in immigration law made it impossible to come and go, the men could no longer go home and instead stayed.

“Once they make the decision to stay, they lose family,” Garcia said.

Writing along the border fence outside San Jose Anglican Church on the Mexico side of the border reads, “We are not delinquents or illegals, we are international workers.” Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

With the mid-1990s change in immigration law, the undocumented population rose from 6 million to 12 million by 2004, as men sought family reunification and women and children began arriving. Today, there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States; some have been living in hiding for 20 to 30 years, he said.

Upon arrival, migrants and asylum seekers are faced with pleading their cases to agents at designated points of entry or climbing over walls and crossing rivers to plead their case upon apprehension by agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, Garcia explained.

A couple of weeks ago asylum seekers were sleeping on the bridge so as not to lose their place in line, as typically 20 people are allowed to enter at a time. Then, in an effort to clear the bridge, CBP began issuing numbers, written in magic marker on asylum seekers’ arms to keep track of their place in line, he said.

From there, they are sent to shelters in Ciudad Juárez, just across the border, to wait their turn.

Miguel Escobar, executive director of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, greets children from the Rancho Anapra municipality outside the center of Ciudad Juárez. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The Episcopal pilgrims arrived in El Paso just as news broke of the death of a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl in U.S. Border Patrol custody a day after she, her father and 161 other migrants surrendered to agents after crossing illegally into New Mexico. The circumstances of the girl’s death are still under investigation.

For the pilgrims, though, it was a stark reminder of the perilous journey migrants and asylum seekers face, and the outdated U.S. immigration system and the Trump administration’s response to the current humanitarian crisis on the Southwestern border. The government has sent at least 8,000 troops to the border in an attempt to deter crossings. Still, migrants continue to arrive in caravans.

“I wanted to see with my own eyes what’s going on,” said the Ven. Juan Sandoval, an archdeacon in the Diocese of Atlanta and a third-generation Mexican-American who grew up in Phoenix, Arizona.

“It just seemed instead of the military, you should be sending churches and aid workers, people who can help,” he said.

The Very Rev. Nathan LeRud, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, stands on the Ciudad Juárez side of the wall separating Mexico and the United States at the border in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

That’s where the churches come in. Mostly, hospitality comes from El Paso churches, with the Roman Catholic Church and Annunciation House leading the way. Some asylum seekers receive legal assistance from organizations like the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, the second stop on the pilgrims’ journey.

There, Christina Garcia, who provides legal consultation, explained the complexity of family reunification, which can take 20 or 30 years depending on U.S. quotas and the country of origin, and the difficulty in winning asylum cases. Her agency, she said, won six asylum cases in six years, and, in a major win, seven so far this year.

The current crisis, she said, “is dehumanizing in every aspect and ignores the humanitarian right to access.” She also said El Paso; Atlanta, Georgia, and that state of Arizona are the most difficult places to gain asylum, and here, as in the rest of the United States, judges make arbitrary determinations case-by-case.

From there, they went to St. Christopher’s Church, one of five El Paso Episcopal churches and the one closest to the border, led by the Rev. J.J. Bernal. The Rev. Paul Moore, who chairs the Rio Grande Diocese’s Borderland Ministries, gave an overview of the current situation as it relates to Central America, talking about the failure of trickle-down economics, U.S. foreign policy as it has historically related to Central America, deportation of gang members, security issues across the Northern Triangle, drug cartels, associated violence and the United States’ appetite for drugs.

Across Central America’s Northern Triangle, a region that includes El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, more than 700,000 people have been displaced by violence. However, it’s a global phenomenon now affecting a record 68.5 million people worldwide.

The pilgrimage followed on a Border Ministries Summit organized by Moore and held here in November.

On Dec. 14, the pilgrims departed for Ciudad Juárez, some crossing by car and others using pedestrian access along two of the three bridges connecting the two cities. In Juárez, the Rev. Hector Trejo, who arrived six months ago from Chihuahua, the capital of the state of Chihuahua, took them by bus to two of his three Anglican parishes.

San Jose, or St. Joseph’s, is located along the border in Rancho Anapra, an informal, impoverished settlement on the city’s northwest side, previously a cattle ranching area that squatters settled and that drug cartels have infiltrated.

“Because the people here don’t have property rights it became a place for the criminal element,” said Trejo. “There are safe houses, and it’s a movement center for drug traffickers and people smugglers.

“The challenge here is great,” he added, saying community members come to him asking him for advice on how to get over the wall because they fear for their lives.

The Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, right; Miguel Escobar, executive director of Episcopal Divinity School, and the Rev. Winnie Varghese, director of justice and reconciliation at Trinity Church Wall Street, cross The Paso del Norte International Bridge into El Paso, Texas. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Diocese of Northern Mexico doesn’t have an established ministry serving migrants; it was one thing the Episcopalians were looking to get involved in and something Trejo addressed. The reality is such, he said, that volunteers need to be trained properly to deal with people who’ve been traveling for weeks and sometimes months, people who haven’t bathed or brushed their teeth in a long time, and who have fled traumatic, violent, abusive situations and encountered the same along their journey. Still, he’s looking for partners in ministry and to build a network of responders along the border.

It was something Bernal, the rector of St. Christopher’s in El Paso, echoed. The Episcopal Church, he said, needs to articulate and establish a vision for its ministry at the border.

“The Episcopal Church is a voice for the voiceless,” he said. “Those of us here at the border feel isolated. We need more active voices and human resources.”

Through its Borderland Ministries, the Rio Grande Diocese is looking to expand its ministry, said Moore.

And that, he said, must take the form of grassroots ministry led by those on the ground through partnerships based in mutual respect, not patriarchy.

On the last day of the Dec. 13-15 pilgrimage, two carloads of pilgrims departed for Tornillo, Texas, the site of a camp that opened to house 360 unaccompanied minors and now houses 2,700. They didn’t quite reach the camp, as Border Patrol agents told them it is private property, but they got as close as possible and gathered at a fence to pray for the children in custody there: for their safety, their grieved parents and their futures.

“I’m really glad we went to the camp – I won’t call it a shelter, it’s not a shelter – it’s a concentration camp for children,” said the Rev. Stephen Carlsen, dean and rector of Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, Indiana. “I felt I needed to witness what is being done in our names as Americans.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like if the U.S. border is your last hope … how people are [mis] treated and dehumanized. If this is their last hope, what must they be fleeing?”

-Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of Episcopal News Service.

Episcopal Church eyes investing in gun manufacturers to press for greater gun safety

by dpaulsen | Friday, December 14, 2018
Smith & Wesson

Episcopalians join a interfaith group of demonstrators outside a Smith & Wesson facility in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 14. Photo: Victoria Ix/Diocese of Western Massachusetts

[Episcopal News Service] Shareholder advocacy is nothing new for the Episcopal Church. With an investment portfolio worth about $400 million, the church has long used some of those investments to influence companies based on Christian principles and General Convention resolutions that set church policies and priorities.

What’s new is one of the investment tactics the church plans to implement in the new year to address gun violence.

General Convention passed a resolution in July that calls on Executive Council’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility to research investing in gun manufacturers to give the church a new voice in how those companies do business. The goal: “to minimize lethal and criminal uses of their products.”

“We’ve never purposely gone out and bought [shares in] what we’d consider a bad actor in order to press the company to change behavior,” said Brian Grieves, the outgoing chair of the committee, which oversees the church’s shareholder advocacy.

The resolution, B007, was proposed by Western Massachusetts Bishop Douglas Fisher, a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, who will take over for Grieves as committee chair in January. Fisher’s diocese is home to the headquarters of Smith & Wesson in Springfield, and in March he participated in a rally outside the gun manufacturer led by high school students in the wake of a deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Fisher acknowledged a “sense of frustration” among anti-gun violence advocates in response to Congress’ inaction. “The federal government is doing nothing about the public health crisis of gun violence,” he said. “So where can the church engage this big issue?”

Shareholder advocacy already has produced results on the issue, such as the decision by Dick’s Sporting Goods in February to stop selling assault rifles at its Field & Stream stores and to stop selling any guns to customers under 21. The Episcopal Church, as a shareholder, was involved in the effort to pressure the chain based on the Sandy Hook Principles, named after the school in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 students and six educators were gunned down six years ago, on Dec. 14, 2012.

The Dick’s shareholder effort was aided by a coalition called Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, or ICCR, an organization to which the Episcopal Church belongs that helps religious organizations pool their shareholder power. The group has recently worked with other of its members to do what General Convention urged: buy stock in a gun manufacturing company to influence corporate behavior. Eleven Roman Catholics organizations invested in Sturm, Ruger & Co. and in May were able to pass a shareholder resolution requiring the company to produce a report documenting how it is mitigating the harmful effects of its products.

Fisher said the Episcopal Church intends to take its cue from ICCR and base its advocacy with gun manufacturers on principles developed by an anti-gun violence campaign called Do Not Stand Idly By.

Such efforts aren’t opposed to gun ownership or the Second Amendment, Fisher said. “We’re really taking the approach of, why can’t gun companies act like car companies? Car companies are already trying to make their cards safer. … That’s good business practice. Why can’t gun companies go down the same path?”

That’s a worthwhile case to make to those companies, said the Rev. Rosalind Hughes, a Cleveland-area priest who has been vocal and active in the fight against gun violence, but she isn’t sure investments are the best way to make that case.

“My personal feeling is that I would prefer that we were not investing in the manufacture of guns in the first place,” said Hughes, rector at Church of the Epiphany in Euclid, Ohio. She favors stepping up lobbying efforts to pass stricter background checks, an end to gun-show loopholes and other reform measures. Bishops United Against Gun Violence has backed such measures as well.

“The fact that we’re talking about this on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting doesn’t escape my notice,” Hughes told Episcopal News Service. “And the idea that the best that we can do is to invest in the manufacture of more guns in order to influence the landscape of guns in this country that doesn’t sit well with me.”

Grieves, who will remain on the Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility after stepping down as chair, describes actively investing in such companies as just one of the alternatives available to the church as it pursues a range of policy goals.

“One size does not fit all,” he said. “It’s a strategic decision, and we’re going to have to look at how we arrive at those particular positions.”

Even if this approach gets results on gun safety, it may not be the best approach toward one of the church’s other priorities, which include climate change, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, indigenous people’s rights, corporate board diversity and ending human trafficking.

The church already owns shares in Caterpillar and Motorola, for example, and for years has been pressing those two companies to address human rights concerns related to their contracts with Israel in the occupied territories.

“The purpose is to engage in dialogue and try to get the company to move toward making a change in its behavior,” Grieves said.

General Convention, however, stopped short of approving a blanket divestment in Israel, which some critics of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories have called for. Instead, bishops and deputies passed a resolution that calls on Executive Council to establish a “human rights screen” to determine the criteria that would justify divesting from specific companies based on their track records on human rights.

The church also maintains so-called no-buy lists against investing in tobacco companies, for-profit prison companies and companies that earn more than a specific percentage of their business as military contractors.

Fisher noted that affirmative investing is another approach the Episcopal Church takes, such as its support for companies doing good work in the Palestinian territories. The Bank of Palestine is one example.

On climate change, the church seeks out investments aligned with its interest in caring for God’s creation. Fisher’s diocese took the additional step in 2015 divesting from companies that profit from fossil fuels.

It’s one thing to divest from oil to invest that money in alternative fuels, Fisher said, but that approach doesn’t work well in addressing gun violence. “What would you invest in that would impact the public health crisis of gun violence?”

By investing in gun manufacturers, then, the church and its partners may be able to persuade those companies take steps that will reduce the number of gun deaths. One example would be to adopt technology like fingerprint recognition, familiar to any iPhone user, that would lock guns for everyone except the owner.

“Even if you don’t get shareholder resolutions passed, if you stay with it long enough … people start to take notice,” Fisher said. “It’s not something that gets ignored. It gets addressed.”

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

Archbishop of Canterbury calls for UK-based international Joint Reconciliation Unit

by dpaulsen |

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called on the British government to establish a Joint reconciliation Unit to work in conflict zones around the globe. The archbishop made his call during a debate he led in the House of Lords on reconciliation.

Read the full article here.

Archbishop of Burundi leads march against gender-based violence

by dpaulsen | Thursday, December 13, 2018

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican primate of Burundi, Archbishop Martin Blaise Nyaboho, has led hundreds of people on a march through Makamba in a protest against gender-based violence. The march took place during the annual, international 16 Days of Activism, which concluded on Dec. 10 – international Human Rights Day.

Read the full article here.

Christian, Jewish leaders in Britain speak against anti-Semitism, persecution of Christians

by dpaulsen |

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined other Christian and Jewish leaders to speak out against the rise of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom and the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world. The religious leaders, co-presidents of the Council of Christians and Jews, co-signed a letter to The Times newspaper on Dec. 13.

Read the full article here.

Episcopal Church’s support for historically black universities cited in Saint Augustine’s turnaround

by dpaulsen |
Everett Ward

Saint Augustine’s University President Everett Ward speaks Dec. 11 at a news conference to announce the university has received a 10-year accreditation. Photo: Saint Augustine’s, via YouTube

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s longtime support for historically black colleges and universities was credited this week in a major success story in Raleigh, North Carolina. Saint Augustine’s University, a school the church helped establish more than 150 years ago, announced that its accrediting agency had taken the institution off probation, indicating that it finally had turned the corner on its financial struggles and enrollment decline.

Saint Augustine’s President Everett Ward sounded euphoric at a press conference Dec. 11 to present the good news.

“By God’s grace, I am here today and can report to you that we have saved Saint Augustine’s University,” Ward said, according to the News & Observer. In a subsequent press release, Ward touted a “turnaround strategy” that drew support from alumni, faculty students and community partners.

“I would like to especially highlight and thank the Episcopal Church for its unwavering support,” Ward said in the press release. “From Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s letters and encouragement, to the church’s HBCU committee and their consultants’ foundational, administrative, and advisory support, and to all who offered gifts of prayer as well as financial contributions.”

The Episcopal Church at one point supported 11 HBCUs in Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. By 1976, only three remained, and in 2013, one of those three, Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, also folded.

The two survivors are Saint Augustine’s and the much smaller Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina. The Episcopal Church has invested millions of dollars in the two schools in recent years while also providing administrative guidance and fundraising support. Voorhees’ accreditation was not in doubt, but in 2016, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ accrediting board placed Saint Augustine’s on probation because of concerns about its financial security.

When the board met last weekend, the stakes were high for Saint Augustine’s. Losing accreditation could have dealt a devastating and potentially fatal blow to the school. Instead, the board decided to renew Saint Augustine’s accreditation for 10 years.

“It’s really a wonderful time, not only for Saint Aug’s, but the church can be very proud that one of its institutions will continue to provide quality education for students and support for their families and continue to exist for the years to come,” the Rev. Martini Shaw told Episcopal News Service by phone after the announcement.

To donate in support of Saint Augustine’s University visit www.episcopalchurch.org/givesau, text GIVESAU to 41444 or mail your contribution to The Appeal for Saint Augustine’s University, c/o The Episcopal Church Office of Development, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017 (note Saint Augustine’s University in the check memo).

Shaw, who is rector at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, serves as chair of the HBCU committee of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council. The council established the HBCU committee in 2017 to continue work begun by an HBCU task force that formed in 2015.

The church’s recent work with HBCUs coincides with an emphasis on racial reconciliation under Curry’s leadership, though Episcopal ties to these academic institutions dates back further to the post-Civil War period. Colleges and universities like Saint Augustine’s and Voorhees were founded to provide educational opportunities to black men and women who were excluded from white institutions of higher learning because of segregation.

Saint Augustine’s was established in 1867 by the Episcopal Church and opened its doors the following January. The school that later would become Voorhees College was founded in 1897, and the Episcopal Church has supported it since 1924.

About 100 such schools are still open today across the United States, accepting students of all races, and some of the financial and enrollment challenges faced by Saint Augustine’s and Voorhees are common among other historically black colleges and universities.

The demographics of those colleges’ student bodies are changing as well. Pew Research Center reported last year that less than 9 percent of black students attended a historically black college in 2015, down from 17 percent in 1980. Over the same period, historically black colleges and universities have become more racially diverse, with the number of students who aren’t black rising from 13 to 17 percent.

Overall enrollment at HBCUs also has been in decline since hitting a peak in 2010, when 327,000 students attended one of the colleges, according to the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The agency’s Digest of Education Statistics shows that Voorhees increased its fall enrollment that year, to 752 students, but Saint Augustine’s was already beginning its downward trend, falling from the 1,529 students it had enrolled in 2009 to 1,508 students.

The decline at Saint Augustine’s gained speed in the first half of this decade, with enrollment dropping to just 810 students by fall 2015. Ward was named president that year, after taking the reins as interim president a year earlier.

In 2016, Saint Augustine’s logged its first enrollment increase in seven years, welcoming 944 students that fall. The number grew to 974 in 2017 but dropped sharply to 767 this fall, which the university blames on a negative article on HBCUDigest.com suggesting the university was near closure. By easing the uncertainty around its accreditation, Ward and other university officials see further opportunities to expand enrollment and academic programs.

Everett Ward on football field

Everett Ward became the 11th president of Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April 2015. Photo: Saint Augustine’s University

“The relevancy of any intellectual community has got to be that you grow and advance with the changing society, because we’re producing the leaders of society here at Saint Augustine’s and subsequently you have to embrace diversity,” Ward, a graduate of Saint Augustine’s, told ENS in 2017 for a Q&A during the university’s 150th anniversary year.

The Episcopal Church’s financial support has helped stabilize the two schools and, in Saint Augustine’s case, bring it back from the brink of losing accreditation. General Convention has approved about $2 million to support HBCUs with Episcopal ties for the past several triennia. After Saint Paul’s closed in 2013, the money was split between the remaining two colleges.

The 2016-2018 budget included $1.1 million for each college, and the same amount has been approved in the 2019-2021 budget. Separately, the church’s Development Office has worked to increase awareness of the schools within the church and to help with fundraising.

Saint Augustine’s also points to improved internal controls and an increase in alumni giving in allowing the institution to end its 2018 financial year with a surplus. As they build on these successes, university officials will continue to have the support of the Episcopal Church.

“We as the church are going to continue to work very closely with them to assure that they succeed,” Shaw said. “We don’t want to lose another one of our Episcopal schools.”

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

Carta a la Iglesia Episcopal del Obispo Presidente, Presidente de la Cámara de Diputados

Suspensión del estatuto de limitaciones para mala conducta sexual del clero comienza el 1 de enero de 2019

by mdavies |

Estimado Pueblo de Dios en la Iglesia Episcopal:

Hace casi un año, nosotros publicamos un llamamiento a que la iglesia examinara su historia y lograra una mejor comprensión de cómo hemos manejado o maltratado casos de acoso sexual, explotación y abuso a través de los años. En particular, pedimos escuchar las voces de la iglesia más amplia en la Convención General para que los diputados y obispos pudieran considerar tanto cómo expiar el pasado de la iglesia y formar un futuro más justo. Como seguidores de Jesús de Nazaret, como hijos de Dios con todo el mundo, no podíamos hacer menos y debemos hacer más.

En julio, la Convención General consideró 26 resoluciones y una conmemoración que abordan los asuntos que el movimiento #YoTambién (#MeToo) ha sacado a la luz, muchos desarrollados por el Comité Especial de la Cámara de Diputados sobre Acoso y Explotación Sexuales. Una de estas resoluciones, Resolución D034, suspende por tres años el canon (ley eclesiástica) que impone un plazo para iniciar procesos en casos de mala conducta sexual en contra de adultos por parte de clérigos. No existe un plazo para denunciar mala conducta sexual en contra de niños y jóvenes menores de 21 años de edad por parte de clérigos.

Como resultado de esta resolución, desde 1 de enero de 2019 hasta 31 de diciembre de 2021, los que quieren iniciar un caso de mala conducta sexual contra un clérigo podrán hacerlo, independientemente de hace cuanto tiempo ocurrió la supuesta mala conducta. Las alegaciones de mala conducta pueden presentarse al gestor en la diócesis donde ocurrió la supuesta mala conducta, o, si la alegación es contra un obispo, a la Oficina de Desarrollo Pastoral. Pueden aprender cómo comunicarse con el gestor en una diócesis buscando en su sitio web o llamando a la oficina del obispo.

Esperamos que esta suspensión temporal del estatuto de limitaciones será una manera en que la iglesia pueda aceptar los casos de mala conducta sexual en nuestro pasado colectivo. De aquí a la Convención General en 2021, los laicos, clérigos y obispos nombrados a varios grupos de trabajo por la Convención General de 2018 trabajarán en otras maneras de abordar estos asuntos, incluso un proceso de ayudar a la iglesia a involucrarse en la veracidad, la confesión y reconciliación respecto a nuestra historia de discriminación basada en género, acoso y violencia.

Agradecemos los numerosos diputados, obispos y otros voluntarios en toda la iglesia cuyo trabajo cuidadoso antes de, durante y después de la Convención General ayudan a que nuestra iglesia avance al día cuando, habiéndonos arrepentido de nuestros pecados y enmendado nuestra vida común, podamos ser restaurados en amor, gracia y confianza el uno con el otro mediante nuestro Salvador Jesucristo.

Fielmente,

El Rvdmo. Michael B. Curry                          La Rda. Gay Clark Jennings

Obispo Presidente y Primado                       Presidente, Cámara de Diputados

As one historically black Episcopal church closes, others face strong headwinds

by dpaulsen | Wednesday, December 12, 2018
All Saints'

Acolytes and a crucifer from St. Ambrose Episcopal Church stand outside All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Warrenton, N.C., during a closing service on Dec. 8, 2018. Photo: Yonat Shimron/Religion News Service

[Religion News Service] On a chilly December morning, 100 years and one week after its sanctuary opened, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, an African-American congregation with a proud history, was formally closed.

Bishop Samuel Rodman presided over the Eucharistic service in an elementary school a block away from the church, where weekly services ended more than three years ago. Several longtime members returned to read Scriptures and sing hymns. Afterward, the group of 100, including history buffs and well-wishers from North Carolina and Virginia, shared a meal of fried chicken and baked beans.

All Saints is hardly alone among mainline Protestant and Catholic congregations. Faced with dwindling members, crumbling infrastructure and costly maintenance, some 6,000 to 10,000 churches shutter each year, according to one estimate. More closures may be in the offing as surveys point to a decline in church attendance across the country.

But All Saints is an example of an even sharper decline.

Historically African-American churches across the South are fast disappearing. Some were created after the Civil War when slavery was abolished; others in the crucible of Jim Crow, when whites who had long relegated blacks to the church balcony no longer tolerated them at all.

The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina once boasted 60 such churches. Today, a mere dozen are left and, of those, only three have full-time clergy. Epiphany Episcopal Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., closed two years ago; at least one other is in danger of shuttering next year.

Of course, African-Americans have been welcome in all Episcopal churches for years — and the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, who served as bishop of the North Carolina diocese before leading the 1.7 million-member denomination, is black.

At Saturday’s (Dec. 8) closing service, there was a recognition that it was in part progress in race relations that has doomed African-American congregations. But there was as much tribute paid to the sacrificial work of so many pioneering black Episcopalians.

“Jesus provided those saints with the fortitude … to say, ‘We belong to the house of God,’” said the Rev. Nita Byrd, chaplain at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, who delivered the closing service sermon. “We are not aliens in the Christian family. We are not second-class citizens in the Episcopal Church.”

As North Carolina wrestles with the aftermath of Jim Crow — the University of North Carolina’s trustees have recommended that a racially motivated Confederate statue torn down by protesters in August be housed in a $5.3 million museum to be built on campus — there is a sense that these churches slowly fading from view also have a story to tell about the racial history of the region.

Members of All Saints hope that story is preserved.

“Not only was All Saints important to us, but to the community and the nation,” said Wilhelmina Ratliff, a middle school teacher who is one of the last six remaining members.

The church was formed in 1892 — about five years before Jim Crow made it nearly impossible for blacks to remain in white churches. It was not the first black Episcopal church in North Carolina. That honor belongs to St. Cyprian’s in New Bern, which got its start in 1866 and remains open.

But All Saints in particular benefited from, and nourished, a succession of notable black priests. Among them was Henry Beard Delany, who would become one of the first two black bishops consecrated in the Episcopal Church, in 1918. (His daughters, Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delany, told about their civil rights struggles in their 1993 best-selling book, “Having Our Say.”)

Henry Delany, who was born into slavery in Georgia, preached at All Saints for more than two decades, traveling an hour by train from Raleigh one Sunday a month.

His daughter Sarah recalled: “When Papa became a bishop, he occasionally was encouraged by a friendly conductor to take the Pullman instead of the Jim Crow car. But Papa would say no. He would be amiable about it, though. He would say to the conductor, ‘That’s OK. I want to ride with my people, see how they’re doing.’ And he’d go sit in the Jim Crow car.”

Delany helped establish a parochial school at All Saints where young African-Americans were educated. Later he worked to raise money for a new church building. Delany wanted the new building, which eventually rose on the corner of West Franklin and Front streets, to honor a late black Episcopal priest with roots in Warren County.

That priest, Thomas White Cain, was the first black Episcopalian to serve alongside white priests with equal voice and vote in the national legislative body of the Episcopal Church, the General Conference. (He died when he was swept away by a 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston Island, Texas.)

Delany was able to raise $1,500 for the All Saints building, which would also be known as the Thomas White Cain Memorial. Of that, $500 was pledged from among black Episcopalians across the country.

Delany and Cain are only two of a dozen trailblazing black Episcopal priests who came through All Saints or the larger Warren County, whose population to this day is estimated to be 51 percent African-American.

“These were people of remarkable achievement working under very difficult circumstances, underpaid, underresourced, willing to travel great distances to minister to far-flung congregations,” said the Rev. Brooks Graebner, the diocesan historian.

Though never large, the congregation was a vital part of the community. In later years, it operated a center for special-needs children in its basement. Scholarships from the church sent local students to college. The rectory next door was used as a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

“It was a vibrant place, full of energy and enthusiasm,” said Robin Williams, a retired juvenile court counselor who attended the church for 25 years.

The Rev. Jemonde Taylor, rector of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Raleigh, another historically black church, worries about what the decline of churches like All Saints might mean for recruiting black clergy.

“More than 75 percent of black priests come out of historically black congregations,” said Taylor. “Those black churches lift people up for ministry. So if we don’t have black churches, will we no longer have black priests?”

The Episcopal Church does not keep records on race, but a Pew Research survey found that about 4 percent of Episcopal Church members identify as black.

The remaining members of All Saints now attend other Episcopal churches nearby. But they are not quite ready to abandon their old home. A group is exploring the possibility of reopening the closed structure to house some kind of ministry for the community, perhaps in partnership with another group. First, it needs some repairs, which is why the closing service was held at the elementary school.

“We have hope,” said Ratliff. “We know this is not it. Everybody’s coming together on the same page. What will the rest of the story be? We don’t know yet.”

Presiding Bishop preaches in East Carolina, listens to stories of Hurricane Florence’s aftermath

by dpaulsen |

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry shares a hug during his pastoral visit to the Diocese of East Carolina on Dec. 8 and 9. Photo: John Bauerlein

[Episcopal News Service – Wilmington, North Carolina] Three months after Hurricane Florence made landfall along the coast of North Carolina, many there are living in what feels like a liminal space. The initial chaos of the storm has passed, but the state of disorientation and uprootedness has become the “new normal.”

During his pastoral visit last weekend in the Diocese of East Carolina, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry emphasized that he had come primarily to listen to the stories of those who had been impacted, to bear witness to the recovery work being done, and to call members of the wider Episcopal Church to remember that their siblings in East Carolina are still in need.

The diocese encompasses the coastal third of North Carolina. Over the course of his two-day visit, Curry preached at a Sunday Eucharist and attended two additional gatherings that provided opportunities for community members to share their stories and time for Curry to respond pastorally.

The first gathering was held at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, North Carolina, on the evening of Dec. 8.

At this gathering, three individuals from around the diocese shared their experiences prior to, during and in the aftermath of Florence. The thread that was woven through each of these stories was the importance of connection and caring for one another.

The Rev. Cortney Dale from Christ Episcopal Church in New Bern spoke about how her partners in ministry were invaluable during this time and allowed her to supply the essential needs of those in her community. Shirley Guion of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in New Bern shared the history of her parish, highlighting what a rock it had been for so many people, and how heartbreaking it had been to evacuate and return to major damages in the church.

Pam Banta, director of St. Anne’s Parish Day School in Jacksonville, explained how she had been unable to evacuate but was grateful to have been there amid the storm because it allowed her to begin the process of providing temporary fixes for leaks in the school before others were able to return.

Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wilmington on Sept. 14 with 90 mph winds, part of a particularly active hurricane season that left a path of destruction from the Gulf Coast to coastal Virginia. Florence was blamed for the deaths of 50 people.

Hurricane Michael made landfall a month later in the Florida Panhandle as an even more powerful storm with 155 mph winds, killing at least 40 people. Curry has scheduled a pastoral visit in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast in January.

On Dec. 9, Curry spent the morning with the congregation of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Southport. Due to damages to the congregation’s three main buildings, St. Philip’s is currently worshipping every Sunday in the Oak Island Moose Lodge.

Though being away from one’s church building provides a whole slew of headaches and complications, there seemed to be a lot of joy during the congregation’s Eucharist with Curry.

In his sermon, the presiding bishop emphasized the importance of remaining hopeful and continuing to dream, even if those dreams feel out of reach during times when everything around us is in disrepair.

The final gathering was another storytelling session, held in the afternoon Dec. 9 at St. James Parish, the oldest church in Wilmington.

The Rev. Jody Greenwood of Church of the Servant Episcopal Church, Wilmington, shared her experience of organizing relief and recovery work in the Lower Cape Fear Deanery. Like Dale in New Bern, Greenwood said the relationships she has built with ministries and relief organizations have helped her connect those with time and resources to those who have needs.

Lisa Richey, dean of the Lower Cape Fear Deanery, shared some of her personal story and emphasized that there are many people in the deanery who have not yet recovered from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Just two short years later, they faced destruction once again during Florence.

– Lindsey Harts is communications coordinator for the Diocese of East Carolina. Episcopal News Service reporter David Paulsen contributed to this report.