‘Everything is awesome’ as building begins on massive Lego replica of National Cathedral

Project raises money for ongoing earthquake repairs, connects people with church’s beauty

by mfschjonberg | Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Volunteer Matthew Taylor, a lawyer who attends St. John’s Episcopal Church Lafayette Square across from the White House, checks out the inside of the Lego model of Washington National Cathedral’s Bethlehem Chapel. Taylor said he volunteers at the build site because “it combines my favorite things, Legos and The Episcopal Church.” Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Washington] Eight years after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake toppled parts of Washington National Cathedral as if they were toy blocks, people of all ages are spending $2 a brick to construct the world’s largest Lego cathedral to help pay for the building’s remaining repairs.

When they are finished in two or three years’ time they will have used between 400,000 and 500,000 bricks – every single one of them off-the-shelf – to build a minivansized scale model over 13 feet long, 8 feet tall and featuring all the cathedral’s landmark parts, both inside and out, including the rose window, Bethlehem Chapel and the central tower. The completed model will weigh about 1,350 pounds.

“I think it’s really cool and whoever created this idea is really smart,” Claire Babb, 10, of River Edge, New Jersey, said on a recent Saturday afternoon at the “build site,” a repurposed part of the cathedral gift shop.

Bricklaying began March 1 with a blessing of the bricks as some of the cathedral’s choristers sang “Everything Is Awesome,” the theme song to the 2014 Warner Bros. Pictures film “The Lego Movie.” The Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, cathedral dean, and “Teddy Roosevelt” (of the Washington Nationals’ racing presidents mascot team) wielded the same trowel used in 1907 to place the first of the bricks into the Bethlehem Chapel floor.

The real Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, laid the building’s foundation stone, which contains rock from a field near Bethlehem, that kicked off 83 years of construction. Then as now, construction began with the Bethlehem Chapel where the stone is embedded below the altar.

Bright Bricks, a United Kingdom-based company, partnered with the cathedral on the project. The company has helped four English cathedrals – Chester, Durham, Exeter and St. Edmundsbury – and one Church of England church – St. Botolph’s – stage similar fundraisers. National Cathedral’s website notes that the Lego Group “does not sponsor, authorize, or endorse this project.”

However, builders and volunteers fully endorse the concept.

Volunteer Matthew Taylor, helps Claire Babb, 10, of River Edge, New Jersey, add to one of the Washington National Cathedral nave’s 18 pillars the 100 bricks that her dad bought. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Claire, who had just finished helping build one of 18 columns or piers for the cathedral’s nave, said she liked the idea that her contribution is “actually helping a church.” And, of course, she likes Legos.

“I like that when you get the pieces, you think that they’re all scattered, but when you finish it’s a masterpiece of a building or a car or whatever you built,” Claire said, adding that she has built Lego sets with more than 1,000 pieces.

“But this is nothing like that. It’s way bigger and looks harder to make,” she said. “It’s more intricate.”

It’s not just kids who are into Legos. During an interview interrupted by calls for brick-placing help at the build site, Charles Fulcher, director of the cathedral’s visitor programs, told the story of a couple in their 50s who came one afternoon and bought 100 bricks. “They were so excited to build,” he said. Then they bought another 100 bricks and then 150 more. “Now, that’s not the norm for somebody to come in a spend $700 for bricks, but it shows that it’s not just kids; it’s adults,” he said.

Legos appeal especially to adults because “you can really create anything in your imagination,” Ed Diment, Bright Bricks’ creative director, told ENS from the company’s offices in England. “The more people do it, the more people see, the more they’re inspired by it.”

Cole Swift, 7, put a pin in Washington National Cathedral’s Builders’ Zone map to show his hometown Mill Valley, California. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Claire said she often reuses her thousands of Lego pieces to “be creative; usually I just imagine something and then I just take some pieces and try to make it.”

Cole Swift, 7, from Mill Valley, California, does the same thing. “We have a scrap bin of Legos and sometimes we just put weird stuff together,” he said during an interview after adding some bricks to the Lego cathedral.

The hows and whys of a Lego cathedral

The Durham cathedral’s Lego model fired Fulcher’s imagination. He visited the church two years ago and set himself on a quest to see if Washington National Cathedral could build its own. Such a project, he thought, could raise money for repair and preservation, and help people develop a personal connection to a building that can seem overwhelming.

The Cathedral Chapter, its governing body, knew that fewer and fewer people were visiting Washington, a reality that usually means even fewer visitors to the cathedral, given its location away from the city’s monuments and museums, according to Fulcher.

A Lego building project – not something many people would expect of such a church – just might call out from atop the tallest hill in the city where the cathedral sits, he said. Chapter members were enthusiastic, he added, but cautious about making the finances work. It takes money to raise money and an existing cathedral donor “who was happy to invest in this possibility to do something new with their giving and to see something very tangible as a result” stepped up to cover Bright Bricks’ design, the material, expert support, site visits and consultations with Magnus Lauglo, a local AFOL, or Adult Fan of Lego, as some Lego hobbyists are known.

The model is being built with “all completely standard parts” that Lego uses in its current sets, Diment said. “It’s a question of being very creative and working out how to create certain shapes using parts perhaps in ways they weren’t intended for,” he explained.

For instance, Harry Potter wands known as “sprues” are serving as railings in one section. Position the sprues or, for that matter, Lego hot dog pieces, in a correct way and “they can look like an architectural detail,” he said.

Harry Potter wand sprues serve as railings outside Washington National Cathedral’s Bethlehem Chapel. Builders have used Lego droid arms for some of the cames between the plastic stained-glass pieces in the windows. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

There will be Lego gargoyles in the replica of the cathedral known for its 112 hand-carved stone creatures. Most will be symbolic of the originals, as will the sprinkling of some of the cathedral’s 1,200 grotesques, but there is a Lego Darth Vader and so the model will incorporate it in its proper place on the outside of the northwest tower.

Scattered amid the Indiana limestone blocks of National Cathedral are bricks or stones from other places, including other cathedrals and even the White House. Fulcher suggested to the Lego builders at Durham Cathedral that the two sites swap bricks in keeping with that tradition. They agreed and Fulcher is inviting the other model churches to join in. “It will be fun to have this as a touch point for talking about our own stones from around the world, and also to help promote sister cathedrals,” he said.

Irving has been helping build the Lego version of Washington National Cathedral’s Bethlehem Chapel. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Bright Bricks designers are tackling the cathedral in sections, figuring out how to build them. The designer recently asked Fulcher to photograph the outermost aisles of the nave because, looking at the documentation he had, “he couldn’t quite wrap his head around” that space. The designers create instruction books similar to what comes in Lego sets and then ship the needed pieces and instructions to the cathedral.

“Eventually, there will be the equivalent of a giant instruction book,” Diment said. Fulcher estimated the book will run to “tens of thousands of pages.”  The work-in-progress nature of the design accounts for the current lack of an accurate count of the eventual total number of bricks.

Building is happening in two ways. Visitors to the cathedral can purchase bricks and work with volunteers to add them to the parts of whatever section is under construction. Meanwhile, volunteers also build with bricks purchased online by people who cannot come to the cathedral.

Fulcher said the cathedral is considering additional ways to add to the fundraiser, ranging from corporate support and underwriting to offering groups the chance to pay to privately build certain parts of the model as community-building experiences.

Some people are already connecting to the model in unique ways. Very early in the project, the grandson of a craftsman who helped make a number of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows, including the creation rose window, decided to honor him and others in his family by covering the cost of two Lego windows in the Bethlehem Chapel.

Vanessa Bateman, an engineer who works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, said one of the first visitors she met was the 82-year-old daughter of an ironworker who helped build the cathedral.

The scale model of Washington National Cathedral needs 18 pillars for the nave. Each comes multiple pages of instructions. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

One day, a blind man came to the build site and felt the model’s pillars. “Then he went out into the church and touched the real pillars” to feel the seaming and the break in the stone columns,” said Anne Stubbs, a cathedral member and volunteer since March 1.

“It’s just so exciting that they get a chance to interact with this building and build it on their own,” said Bateman, who builds Lego creations with her 11-year-old son. “They touch it, they get to build part of it, they get come back and say, ‘Hey, I was a part of this.’”

All of the building effort can also serve as what Fulcher called a “literal and figurative touchpoint” for a visit to the cathedral, which is the sixth-largest in the world and second-largest in the United States.

For instance, recently a 6-year-old boy came with his family to build and after working on part of the Bethlehem Chapel, a volunteer suggested that the family visit the “real” chapel.

They did so and came back to compare it with the model. That was when the boy told the volunteers that something wasn’t right. He noticed there were no flowers on the altar in chapel down in the crypt.

“I almost jumped up and down when the volunteers told me that because what that says to me is this 6-year-old boy moved past just the sense of awe and the sense of mouth-agape wonder [at the building], and he was observing, and he was paying attention, and he was pulled into the details that can so easily be lost,” Fulcher said.

So, the flowers were removed from the model altar and, in keeping with Lent, Fulcher got some small pieces of purple fabric from the altar guild at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in College Park, Maryland, which he attends with his family, to veil the chapel cross. The veil was removed and the flowers returned after Easter, he said.

Construction update, brick by brick

As of Easter, 18,057 bricks had been assembled since the March 1 launch, according to Fulcher. Of that total, 6,258 were bought by 723 residents of the District of Columbia and nearby Maryland and Virginia, the top three locations. At least one person from every state, one United States territory and 49 other countries have donated. Onsite purchases are outpacing online donations 71% to 29%.

This is how the Lego scale model of Washington National Cathedral looked on April 14. When it is finished in two or three years, it will be the size of a minivan, weigh 1,350 pounds and have between 400,000 and 500,000 bricks. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Repairing the cathedral continues to be a financial challenge

The cathedral itself has essentially been a work site since it sustained significant damage when the unusual East Coast earthquake struck near Mineral, Virginia, about 84 miles southwest of Washington, during the early afternoon of Aug. 23, 2011. It was felt from Ontario to North Carolina to Ohio. A second magnitude 4.2 quake struck the same area the next day.

Cathedral officials said repairs would cost millions, in part because of the building’s handcrafted stonework. Many churches, including the cathedral, discovered after the quake that their insurance did not cover earthquake damage. The building suffered further a week later when Hurricane Irene’s high winds caused loose masonry to fall and further displaced some of the pinnacles.

Then in September 2011, a 500-foot crane erected to stabilize damaged sections of the cathedral’s central tower collapsed four days before the cathedral was due to reopen to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The cathedral finally opened Oct. 5, 2011, for the ordination and consecration of Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde as the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

The cathedral has raised and spent $15 million for earthquake repairs, and allocated the money toward stabilization, engineering and design, cleaning and resealing stained glass windows, masonry repair and repointing, and overall maintenance, according to information here. Fulcher said there’s still $19 million worth of work to be done. Based on $2 per brick for between 400,000 and 500,000 pieces, that means between $800,000 and $1 million, which he said will make “a small dent” in that $19 million. “

However, the cathedral hopes that the build will, in Fulcher’s words, “continue to shine a spotlight on the need and bring in support from other avenues as well.”

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

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s statement on the violence in Sri Lanka

by dpaulsen |

Supporters of author Rachel Held Evans pool funds to cover medical costs

Evans has chronicled her journey from her evangelical upbringing to The Episcopal Church

by dpaulsen | Monday, April 22, 2019

[Religion News Service] Friends, family and supporters of prominent Christian author Rachel Held Evans are pooling funds to help cover her medical expenses after she was hospitalized over the weekend and placed into a medically induced coma.

Among other things, Evans has chronicled her journey from an upbringing in conservative evangelical Christianity toward the mainline Episcopal Church.

Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu, authors and faith leaders who co-curate the Evolving Faith Conference with Evans, called on her supporters to create a Twitter prayer chain on April 19 as news was spreading on social media that Evans, the mother of two small children, was admitted to the hospital to treat an infection.

According to a statement posted on her website by her husband Dan Evans late last week, Evans began exhibiting unexpected symptoms while in the hospital, at which point doctors discovered her brain was experiencing constant seizures.

Evans was eventually placed into a medically induced coma while doctors determined how to treat her.

Support for Evans poured in online throughout the weekend. By Monday, Bessey, Chu and collaborator Jim Chaffee worked with Dan Evans to create a GoFundMe online fundraising page to help cover the family’s mounting medical costs. Within hours, the campaign was trending on GoFundMe and had raised $25,000.

“At this time, we anticipate a long road ahead,” the campaign description read. “As her friends, family, loyal readers, and people who love and care about her, this is one way we can help to support, Dan, Rachel, and their children as their lives have been upended. Medical costs are mounting. We want to help with those as well as all the accumulating expenses that even decent medical insurance won’t cover.”

Dan Evans also posted an update on Evans’ blog about her condition on April 22.

“Rachel is still in a medically induced coma,” his post read. “Drs are working to balance her treatment in an attempt to avoid negative effects of the constant seizures but also avoid possible negative effects of any medications used to sedate her and control them.”

Evans is well-known in religious circles — particularly among progressive Christians — for her blog and best-selling books, which include “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” and “Searching for Sunday.” Her most recent work, “Inspired,” was published in June 2018.

Bishop’s defiance as terrorists kill more than 200 in Easter Day church bombings

by mfschjonberg |

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church of Ceylon, Dhiloraj Canagasabey, has defiantly expressed his faith in God as terrorists attacked Churches in Sri Lanka. On Sunday afternoon, London time, the death-toll stood at 207, with hundreds more injured. “If God gives me permission to live, I shall live. If he gives me permission to die, I shall die,” he told the Archbishop of Canterbury in a telephone call on Easter morning.

Read the entire article here.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2019 Ecumenical Easter Letter

by mfschjonberg |

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop Justin Welby’s Easter letter to churches around the world


Lift up your heart, lift up your voice
Rejoice, again, I say, Rejoice!

These words, the refrain of Hymn VIII of Charles Wesley’s “Hymns for our Lord’s Resurrection”, express the joyful cry of the human soul at the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection is a cause of joy. It is the source of ultimate joy, for in the resurrection Jesus won victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15. 57). The resurrection happened at a particular time and in a particular place but its significance is eternal and universal. God purposed the salvation of this fallen world and creation looked towards the day that darkness would be put to flight. God willed the salvation of this fallen world and from that day the Church has lived in the radiant brightness of our triumphant King. In the sixth century the priest and poet Venantius wrote:

“The light, the heaven, the fields and the sea duly praise the God ascending above the stars, having crushed the laws of hell. Behold, He who was crucified reigns as God over all things, and all created objects offer prayer to their Creator.”

From the first Easter Day Jesus’ disciples have made known the Good News of the Resurrection. The risen Lord told Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him, but to go to tell the disciples. She did so, proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20. 17-18).

On the mount of the Ascension Jesus addressed his friends, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28. 19-20).

The disciples (followers) thus became apostles (those who are sent). The Church has stood in that apostolic tradition ever since: both as those who profess the faith of the Apostles and as those who share in their task of evangelism.

I send this letter at a difficult time in the lives of many peoples and nations. Creation suffers from the effects of human neglect and selfishness; people continue to suffer as a result of war and terror; political and economic systems creak under the twin threats of extremism and apathy. Our world is in desperate need of hope. As Christians we have a message of sure and certain hope to proclaim. On Easter Day in Churches throughout the world Christians will sing, “Christ is Risen! Christ has conquered! Now his life and glory fill you!”

Our proclamation of the hope which is ours in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ must be both confident and humble. In our complex and plural world our evangelism must not be forced on others, but as followers of Christ we have a duty to bear witness to our faith: to speak of hope for the world in the Resurrection of Christ, a message seasoned with gentleness and respect. Our actions of love, compassion, respect and gentleness confirm that the message we share is indeed good news.

I started this letter with a quotation from Charles Wesley (1707-88). Along with his older brother John, Wesley devoted his life to the service of the gospel – preaching the good news in season and out of season and transforming both the church and the lives of those who heard the message. In another hymn he echoed the call of Christ to Mary Magdalene which is, in turn, the call of Christ to each of us:

“Go tell the Followers of your Lord, Their Jesus is to life restored.”

May God bless you this Eastertide and may the resurrection joy that we share spread throughout the world.

The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury

Episcopal Church raises concerns on Trump policy enforcing provisions of Cuba embargo

by dpaulsen |

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations is raising concerns about Trump administration plans to start enforcing a long-neglected provision of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

General Convention has passed several resolutions over the past decade calling for an end to the Cuba embargo, an issue that took on new urgency last year when the Diocese of Cuba was welcomed back into The Episcopal Church. In particular, The Episcopal Church urges “an end to provisions that hamper the mission of the Church in Cuba and that contribute to the suffering of the Cuba people,” the Office of Government Relations said in a statement released April 18.

Cuba cathedral

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Havana, Cuba. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

That statement responded to the Trump administration’s decision to enforce Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which will allow U.S. citizens, including naturalized Cubans, to sue foreign companies that may be profiting from use of property seized by the Cuban government in 1959. That provision has been waived by every U.S. president since the Helms-Burton Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Trump administration officials argue that ending the waiver of Title III will put pressure on the Cuban government over its support for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who announced this change last week, has called Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua a “troika of tyranny.”

“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fall,” Bolton said in his April 17 announcement.

This harder stance toward Cuba comes after former President Barack Obama sought to improve relations with the island country. Obama, who in 2016 became the first U.S. president to visit communist Cuba, oversaw the easing of travel restrictions and restoring of diplomatic relations. The United States reopened its embassy in Havana, and Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington, D.C.

In 2015, General Convention passed a resolution hailing such examples of progress and calling for an outright end to the embargo against Cuba. It further directed the Office of Government Relations to work “toward lifting aspects of the embargo that impede The Episcopal Church’s partnership with The Episcopal Church in Cuba.”

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio leads the recessional following the Feb. 28 Eucharist opening the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s 110th General Synod. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Three years later, in July 2018, General Convention passed the resolution that readmitted the Diocese of Cuba, and Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio took her seat in the House of Bishops.

The thaw in relations between the two countries, however, has been in doubt since President Donald Trump took office in 2017 vowing to reverse Obama’s policy toward Cuba. The Trump administration’s announcement this month raised alarms over the prospect that messy legal battles would ensnare companies from countries that do not have embargoes against Cuba, from the European Union to Canada. Some also questioned whether this U.S. policy change would be effective in pressuring Maduro.

“How do you allow lawsuits against a country like Canada who has been supportive of efforts in Venezuela and maintain Canada as an ally?” Pedro Freyre, a Miami attorney who advises U.S. companies, told the Miami Herald.

The Office of Government Relations, in its statement, also emphasized the potential human cost of such policy changes.

“Enacting Title III will cause U.S.-Cuba relations to deteriorate further, and it will hurt the Cuban people and economy,” the office said. “We therefore reiterate our call for an end to the embargo and reassert our commitment to strengthening relations between the Cuban and American people.”

The Anglican presence in Cuba dates to 1871. In 1966, The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops expelled the Cuban diocese in response to the Cuban Revolution and the United States’ policy. Episcopal schools in Cuba had been closed and appropriated, and many clergy and their families were displaced.

The diocese’s readmission in 2018 was made possible partly because the Cuban government had grown less restrictive toward churches. The U.S. government’s policy, meanwhile, had become less predictable under Trump, church leaders said.

The Episcopal Church of Cuba today has 46 congregations serving about 10,000 members and their communities. Its reintegration into The Episcopal Church is expected to be complete by 2020.

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

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry releases Easter message in video

by dpaulsen | Sunday, April 21, 2019

Oklahoma Episcopal, Orthodox congregations share space in new collaboration

by lwilson | Thursday, April 18, 2019

Father Matthew Floyd (left), an Orthodox Priest, presented a gift to the Rev. Father John Toles, the rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church Friday, March 29, 2019. Photo: Bonnie Vculek/ Courtesy of Enid News & Eagle

Editor’s note: A version of this story ran in March in the Enid News & Eagle.

East meets West in a new collaboration between the Russian Orthodox and Episcopal churches in a small city in north central Oklahoma. Members of St. Nino Equal-to-the- Apostles, a mission parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, have begun meeting for monthly worship services in a chapel at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Enid.

An expanding service

The Russian Orthodox congregation, a mission of St. Benedict Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City, about 80 miles to the southeast, held its first service and fellowship dinner at the Episcopal parish in February.

Father Matthew Floyd, mission priest to St. Nino, said having a chapel to host local services expands his opportunities to reach Orthodox faithful who can’t always make the 90-minute drive to Oklahoma City. The chapel time is especially important, Floyd said, for catechumens, people studying for confirmation into the Orthodox faith.

“What are things I would have wanted to know when I was entering the church I didn’t get?” Floyd asked. “One of my core goals of my Enid visits is to give the catechumens and inquirers more instruction into those topics, and to also give a more rounded liturgical experience. I think it’s good for people to see and experience the more liturgical services of the church.”

‘Right thing to do’

Until February, Floyd’s mission congregation of 10-12 worshipers was meeting in the basement of a business owned by one of its members.

The Rev. John Toles, rector at St. Matthew’s, said when he learned of the Orthodox mission meeting nearby, he saw it as an opportunity to open the doors of The Episcopal Church to another congregation in the Body of Christ.

“Knowing we had space available in the church, we thought we would reach out to St. Nino’s and see if they would like to use it,” Toles said. “A church is not a building, but if our building would provide a more formal space for them to be the church, it was just the right thing to do.”

Toles offered Floyd the use of St. Julian’s Chapel, a side chapel the Episcopal congregation uses for Wednesday noon Mass, at no cost. He said there was no concern about the two denominations sharing the same space.

“We’re not in competition here,” Toles said. “We oftentimes think we are, but the different churches are not in competition with one another, and this was an opportunity for them to have a place to worship. We are the Body of Christ. That’s what it really comes down to, in all its multiple expressions.”

Journey through history

The new space-sharing endeavor is not Toles’ first experience with working closely with the Orthodox Church. He has fond memories of working closely with members of the Orthodox faith through a longstanding collaboration between his seminary, Nashotah House, in Nashotah, Wis., and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, in Yonkers, N.Y.

When Toles received his doctorate, the speaker was Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church and chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Floyd also has past experience with the Episcopal Church. After being raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he attended an Episcopal Church in Lexington, Ky., during his last two years of college, before being confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, then attending the Byzantine Catholic Church in Portland, Ore., and eventually finding his way to the Orthodox Church at St. Antony Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in 2004.

“Somewhere along the way, I got suckered into being a priest,” Floyd said with a laugh.

He was ordained in The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in 2014. Floyd half-jokingly refers to his Protestant-Anglican-Catholic-Orthodox progression as “slowly making my way back through history.”

That history is one of persecution and flight, going back to the last days of the Russian Revolution and ensuing Soviet persecution of Orthodox Christians and other faith groups. That persecution led to an exodus of Orthodox Christians from Russia.

“On the last boat out were the hierarchs who formed what was to become the Russian Church Outside Russia,” Floyd said. “This terrible event ended up helping spread Orthodoxy around the globe and helping to establish Orthodoxy’s contact with the Western world.”

Better understanding

Floyd said the Orthodox Church in this region has been blessed with assistance in the past, and St. Nino’s is “thankful to St. Matthew’s for providing a nice venue for us to have services.”

He said the congregation at St. Benedict in Oklahoma City started out holding services in a chapel at a Catholic school, and Saints Peter and Fevronia Orthodox Church in Kansas City got its start in a Lutheran chapel before purchasing a former Coptic church.

“There is a history of other denominations being so kind as to allow Orthodox missions to use their chapels,” Floyd said, “and we’re very thankful to St. Matthew’s for offering this.”

Floyd said the collaboration also gives an opportunity for increased dialogue and understanding between the two faith traditions.

“It’s always important to be able to speak with others in other traditions in a polite and respectful way,” Floyd said. “We always want to understand and respect each other, but we always maintain our identity.”

Floyd said the shared space will enable the St. Nino congregation to continue to grow and to serve those whose search may lead them to the Orthodox Church.

“I give thanks to God for opening their doors and allowing us the use of the chapel,” Floyd said. “For a lot of us in missions, we have a special place in our hearts for people who have opened their doors to us, or helped us in any other way.”

–James Neal is a parishioner and vestry member at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Enid, Oklahoma. 

Episcopal cathedrals toll bells for Notre Dame, other houses of worship hit by fires

by dpaulsen |

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal cathedrals joined their counterparts across the Anglican Communion in a simultaneous tolling of bells on April 18 as an expression of support for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after a fire destroyed the roof and spire of that centuries-old Roman Catholic landmark.

The Episcopal cathedrals, including Washington National Cathedral, tolled their bells at 2 p.m. EDT to coincide with bell tolling around the world, timed for 7 p.m. in Paris in recognition of the hour three days ago when the fire was first discovered at Notre Dame.

National Cathedral in the U.S. capital sounded its large bourdon bell “as a mark of solidarity following the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral,” the cathedral said in a Facebook post. Episcopal cathedrals in Cleveland, Ohio; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Boise, Idaho; Jackson, Mississippi; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and other cities also announced they would toll their bells at the same time.

The Very Rev. Bernard Owens, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, issued a statement in which he described cathedrals as sacred places that “speak of God’s transcendence in the midst of the places where we live, work, worship and play.” He also noted his own cathedral recently completed a series of fire protection upgrades.

“God is present in these sacred vessels, and so we grieve when fire and flood consume them,” Owens said. “We pray for those whose lives and livelihoods are connected to this magnificent cathedral today, and we pray for the safety of those who will work to preserve and rebuild it in the years to come.”

The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque, in addition to tolling its bells, will incorporate music with connections to Notre Dame into its Maundy Thursday and Easter services.

The cathedral’s music director and organist, Maxine Thevenot, had the rare distinction of playing the Notre Dame organ twice. In a news release issued by St. John, Thevenot lamented the Notre Dame fire, saying it felt “like a kick in the gut.”

The show of solidarity follows a call by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu to all cathedrals in the Church of England asking them to toll their bells together April 18.

Investigators still are searching for a cause for the fire, but initial evidence indicates it was accidental. France has planned a daylong tribute April 18 to the hundreds of firefighters who battled the blaze for nine hours and helped save Notre Dame from a more severe catastrophe.

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the damaged cathedral in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, but some experts warn the work could take decades and cost billions of dollars.

Notre Dame Cathedral, which was completed in 1345 after nearly 200 years of construction, has long been revered as a global architectural icon, and not just for Roman Catholics. News of the fire prompted outpourings of grief this week, and social media users filled feeds with stories of their past visits to Notre Dame.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in a statement issued with the Very Rev. Lucinda Laird, dean of the American Cathedral in Paris, and Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe Bishop in Charge Mark D.W. Edington, offered “our sincere condolences and our readiness to offer any hospitality that would be of help to the community and congregation of Notre Dame in this most holy season of the faith we share.”

More than $1 billion already has been raised for repairing Notre Dame, though the flood of donations sparked some backlash from those questioning whether charity dollars would be better used helping people rather than repairing buildings.

At the same time, the response seems to have had the unexpected side effect of drawing attention to the plight of three historically black congregations in Louisiana still struggling after an arsonist set fire to their churches this spring. Since the Notre Dame fire, donors have given nearly $2 million to a GoFundMe campaign for rebuilding those three churches in St. Landry Parish.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson, Mississippi, referred to the Louisiana church fires in announcing its plans to join other cathedrals in tolling bells on April 18.

The Notre Dame fire has “brought back painful memories of other beloved houses of worship that have been destroyed or damaged by fire,” the Jackson cathedral said in a Facebook post. “We at St. Andrew’s Cathedral are mindful that our own first two edifices were destroyed by fire.”

St. Andrew’s will toll its bourdon bell “as an expression of solidarity following the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and in solidarity with all whose sacred house of worship has burned.”

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

Stations of the Cross for Sex Trafficking Survivors takes the burden from victims

by lwilson |

The Port Authority Bus Terminal served as the first station on April 6 for Stations of the Cross for Sex Trafficking Survivors, an event of the Episcopal Diocese of New York Task Force Against Human Trafficking. Photo: ENS

[Episcopal News Service] On the morning of April 6, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City became more than a transit hub – it became a site of prayer and activism that connected the Stations of the Cross to the plight of sex trafficking victims.

“The cross is a metaphor for sex trafficking,” said the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser, associate rector at Manhattan’s Church of the Incarnation and chair of the Episcopal Diocese of New York Task Force Against Human Trafficking. Sex trafficking victims often face continued violence, social stigma and a loss of agency in an unsupportive system.

Dannhauser and a group of some 30 faith-based activists – many of whom wore various hues of purple in support of sex trafficking victims and in recognition of Lent – gathered for a traveling model of the Lenten tradition, which connected the Stations of the Cross to elements of sex trafficking throughout New York City.

Praying the Stations of the Cross during Lent is a centuries-old tradition that focuses Christians on the path of suffering that Jesus followed to his ultimate sacrifice on the cross, and for many Christians, that story is retold in solemn tones inside the walls of a church or chapel.

Organized by the Episcopal Diocese of New York Task Force Against Human Trafficking, Stations of the Cross for Sex Trafficking Survivors followed seven stations, abbreviated from the usual 14, across three of the city’s boroughs. Each stop reflected Jesus’ journey on Good Friday and the burden of commercial sexual exploitation, featuring opening devotion and liturgy from faith leaders, as well as speeches from trafficking survivors. Attendees visited a shelter and service provider for homeless youth, a strip club, an area of the Bronx known for street prostitution, a human trafficking intervention court in Queens, John F. Kennedy International Airport and a hotel in Brooklyn known for commercial sex.

Fittingly, the Port Authority Bus Terminal served as the first station. Located just blocks from Times Square, the Port Authority is the nation’s largest and busiest bus terminal. It’s open 24 hours a day and, because of its location in a tourist district and its nearly 200,000 daily visitors, the terminal has long been a hot spot for traffickers, pimps and others who scout for vulnerable women to coerce into prostitution.

Yvonne O’Neal, a member of the Diocese of New York Task Force Against Human Trafficking, leads a prayer at the third station. Photo: Lynnaia Main via Facebook

“This was the most profound experience I’ve had this Lent. Hearing from survivors of sex trafficking who, after such suffering and degradation, have resurrected into a new life of service and advocacy, women who have found their voice and are now empowered to help others. The prayers were very moving. I led at the third station and at the last. The suffering of Jesus felt real on this day,” said Yvonne O’Neal, a member of the New York diocese’s task force and The Episcopal Church’s representative on the United Nations NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons.

“Sex trafficking is on the increase. I wonder who among us in the pews on Sunday mornings are the johns in this horrific industry. Are they listening to the message of Jesus Christ? The Diocesan Task Force Against Human Trafficking is bringing awareness to this scourge throughout the diocese. I want us to talk about this evil from the pulpit – our priests should not be afraid to address these hard issues of various forms of interpersonal violence.”

Kevin Booker, who recently became a member of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Manhattan, said he attended the event to learn more about the Stations of the Cross and ways he could help combat sex trafficking.

“The mechanisms of sex trafficking in the city are insidious and surround us on a day-to-day basis, and we’re not really aware of it,” he said. “If I can pray my way into the situation, into awareness about it and be around people who are really motivated to do something … this event, in a strong way, feels like an answer to prayer.”

Sex trafficking involves coercing, tricking or otherwise forcing people (mostly women, and often women of color, and children) into prostitution. New York is in the midst of a trafficking epidemic, according to the New York Post, and police, task forces, faith groups and other activists have been working to combat this multilayered issue. Jim Klein, New York Police Department Vice Enforcement Unit inspector, told AM New York that his team has found 12-year-old girls and 35-year-old women working as prostitutes, some of whom are forced to have sex 25 to 30 times a day.

At Covenant House, a youth homeless shelter that served as the event’s second stop and proxy for the fourth station where Jesus meets his mother, approximately 23 percent of clients have been commercially sexually exploited, said Covenant House New York Executive Director Sister Nancy Downing. “We witness how the life, dignity, hope and dreams of hundreds of young people are stripped of them by sexual predators,” she said, noting that the issue of sexual exploitation goes far beyond New York City.

Covenant House operates in 31 cities across six countries in the United States and Latin America, serving more than 80,000 youth.

“Imagine 23 percent of 80,000 young people,” said Downing.

In 2017, the NYPD rescued one person a week from sex slavery and arrested 228 pimps while working 265 sex trafficking cases, the Post reported – more than twice the case load of 2016. “Trafficking is a bigger problem than what the numbers show,” Klein told the Post. “On average, a pimp is going to have at least four or five women, girls, that he’s going to be working. [And] I haven’t locked up every pimp.” Many of those victims are from New York, recruited in their neighborhoods or online.

Among the survivors participating in the event was Gigi Phoenix, who came to New York at age 18 and was recruited at Port Authority terminal by a pimp who coerced her into sex and drug use. Outside JFK airport (the sixth stop and 10th station), Shandra Woworuntu, an Indonesian survivor-advocate, discussed how she was stripped of agency and the American dream, much like Jesus was stripped of his garments.

The Rev. Adrian Dannhauser is associate rector at Manhattan’s Church of the Incarnation and chair of the Diocese of New York Task Force Against Human Trafficking, which organized the April 6 Stations of the Cross for Sex Trafficking Survivors. Photo: Lynnaia Main via Facebook

“He made you carry a cross you could not bear,” Dannhauser told Phoenix, reflecting on the story of many trafficking victims. “We pray for victims who remain entrapped and enslaved in the sex trade. … We hope to instill in them a sense of self-worth that will allow them to seek hope.”

While the Stations of the Cross event served to lift spirits and convene community through prayer, it also marked the beginning of a campaign against a controversial proposal to decriminalize sex work in New York state. In an open letter to the New York Daily News, newly elected state Senators Julia Salazar and Jessica Ramos said their bill would “repeal statutes that criminalize consensual sexual exchange between adults and create a system that erases prostitution records for sex workers and sex trafficking survivors so they can move on with their lives.”

Under New York’s current penal code, immigrants, women of color, trans women and LGBTQ youth bear the burden of laws supposedly designed to protect them, the state senators said. “People arrested for prostitution are then diverted to the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, or HTICs, which conflate all sex work with sex trafficking and claim to treat sex workers as ‘victims’ while essentially treating them as ‘criminals,’” the letter continued. Anti-trafficking advocacy organization Polaris gave New York state a “D” on its criminal record relief report card.

Yet on the steps of one such court in the borough of Queens, faith leaders and attendees admonished the decriminalization proposal. Victims of sex trafficking should not be criminalized for their victimhood, they concurred, but traffickers and sex buyers should be.

“Prostitution and trafficking are violent trades; there is no such thing as safe prostitution. That’s why it’s so hard to fathom that we have legislators looking to decriminalize the violent, harmful disease-ridden, trauma-laced sex trade,” said the Rev. Que English, a senior pastor at the Bronx Christian Fellowship, CEO and founder of Not On My Watch NYC, and convener of TrafficK-Free NYC. English called the decriminalization proposal a “demonic dark bill in the making” and cautioned that it would lead to legal brothels that view pimps as entrepreneurs.

“These efforts are being built on discriminatory practices, built on the backs of predominately black and brown communities and the most vulnerable among us,” she continued. “These legal brothels … will not be on Fifth Avenue, they’re not going to be on Park Avenue, they will not be in Country Club or Riverdale. They will be where we find massage parlors and liquor stores on every corner, in our poorest districts, while the buyers will continue to come from the other side.”

Despite their differences, those on both sides of the decriminalization debate have inherently Christian desires: to act in good faith and provide services to people in need. Both English and the bill authors advocate for more education and early intervention for vulnerable children 11-15 years old, as well as employment services, healthcare and comprehensive service-enriched housing.

“Politicians … are supposed to serve us through the policies they make. Our coming here is our way of praying with our feet,” said Pastor James Osei-Kofi of Bethesda Healing Center in Brooklyn. “Let’s pray for our politicians – local state and federal – that God will give them the boldness, the compassion, and the passion to do what they need to do.”