[Religion News Service] Faith congregations across California are responding to the state’s housing crisis by sharing their parking lots with people living in their cars, providing mobile showers for the homeless and joining their neighbors in calling for rent control in their communities.
But another form of housing advocacy has been taking place among spaces of faith.
A number of churches are exploring ways to build affordable housing on their own land. It’s what pastors and other leaders are referring to as YIGBY, or “Yes in God’s Backyard.”
The acronym is a play off of the term NIMBY — short for “Not in My Backyard” — a term often used to describe community pushback against affordable housing or other similar projects.
“Jesus very clearly tells us to keep our eyes open to those who are in need,” said Clairemont Lutheran Church pastor Jonathan Doolittle.
California is home to the 10 least-affordable major markets in the nation and is near the top in cost-burdened households — second among homeowners and fourth among renters, according to a January 2019 report from the Public Policy Institute of California. The median home price in California is $549,000. The median rent is $2,800.
About four years ago, Clairemont Lutheran Church members in San Diego decided they needed to do something about the housing crisis affecting their community.
The church was part of an interfaith shelter network in which congregations open their spaces for a certain length of time to house families in crisis. During this time, churches host families for two weeks while they get back on their feet.
The families rotate to other churches in the network, but once that cycle runs out, they may have nowhere else to seek shelter, Doolittle said.
As the church made plans to redevelop its fellowship hall, Doolittle said they sought to include affordable housing as part of that project. The church proposed building a number of affordable apartments on part of their current parking lot.
Church leaders thought the affordable housing component could also speed up the approval process for the project. Instead, they encountered more roadblocks including parking restrictions and costly environmental impact reports.
In San Diego, city code makes it a requirement for churches to have a certain number of parking spaces based on the number of people who can fit in the sanctuary.
The renovation of the church’s fellowship hall is underway, but the housing element is on hold for now.
However, that could soon change.
On Nov. 6, a subcommittee of the San Diego City Council voted in favor on an item that would make it easier for faith communities to get approval to build housing on their parking lots. Under this plan, excess parking spaces could be used as a location for housing. The City Council will consider the item at a future meeting.
Clairemont Lutheran Church plans to jump-start its housing efforts next year, hoping to put between 16 and 21 apartments on its parking lot.
To housing advocate Tom Theisen, the city’s move is a step in the right direction.
Theisen — a retired attorney and former chair of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless — is part of the San Diego YIGBY working group that helps activate under-utilized faith community properties suitable for residential units.
He says the YIGBY group shows how an abundance of church land across the county can help address the region’s housing shortage. Theisen said that in the past, individual churches were going to the government proposing small projects of 15 to 20 units.
“It’s hard to create any change when you’re talking about individual small projects,” Theisen said.
Theisen said the YIGBY group emerged when San Diego County tax collector Dan McAllister identified about 1,100 faith community properties on more than 2,000 acres of land. Theisen said a substantial portion of that land is available for housing.
“If we look at this from the perspective of ‘How do we help the churches help the needy in their community and look at it countywide?’ we’re talking hundreds of potential housing units, possibly thousands,” Theisen said.
Theisen estimates construction costs could be “primarily if not exclusively” paid through income coming in from the housing.
“The idea is to start building housing and start putting people in houses,” Theisen said.
It’s called St. Paul’s Commons and will be a mixed-use development with community spaces operated by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It’s also where the nonprofit Trinity Center will have a physical space to serve people who are homeless.
The project will include 45 affordable apartments. The church leased its land to Berkeley-based developer Resources for Community Development, which used a property management company to perform background checks, call references and conduct interviews for apartment applications.
The development is taking over a single-family home where Trinity Center provided services to the homeless. The Rev. Krista Fregoso said they were already assisting people who were homeless and later thought, “What if we became a part of the solution, too?”
To Fregoso, “This is just one part of how we live out our faith. We hope to be a model for other faith communities who might see their property in a different way.”
[Anglican Communion News Service] The Church of Ireland is celebrating 150 years since it was disestablished from the Church of England and has set out an innovative program to mark the milestone.
A special service of celebration this month in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, where the archbishop of Canterbury will preach, launches the #D150 program and will look back on the achievements of the past century and a half.
Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Richard Clarke wrote about the landmark year, saying: “Today we may reasonably celebrate 150 years of disestablishment, but only if we are now ready to show the same faith, courage and generosity our forebears epitomized in 1869 as we seek to shape our future course.”
[Diocese of Lexington] On Nov. 1, at the Special Convention for the Diocese of Lexington held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Winchester, Kentucky, the first order of business was the election of the eighth bishop of Lexington.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Van Koevering was duly elected and was greeted joyously by the convention. Van Koevering has been serving as the bishop provisional since being appointed by the diocesan convention in February 2018. As such, he continues as the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese, but now also is bishop diocesan-elect.
The Canons of The Episcopal Church provide that a majority of bishops diocesan and standing committees must consent to the election. Responses must be made within 120 days after receipt of the certificate of election.
Pending the receipt of necessary consents, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has set aside March 21, 2020, for the Van Koevering’s investiture and recognition bishop diocesan of Lexington. That service will take place at Christ Church Cathedral, Lexington.
The Standing Committee will begin formulating plans for the investiture service at its meeting later this month. The Diocese of Lexington looks forward to continuing work with Van Koevering and living into the vision affirmed by the recent convention, “Be the Church: Be the Change.”
[Anglican Communion News Service] The first joint pastoral visit by a pope and an archbishop of Canterbury could take place in South Sudan early next year, the Vatican and Lambeth Palace announced last night. The news came after a private audience between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby at the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta guest house.
“During the friendly talks we focused on the condition of Christians in the world and on some situations of international crisis, with particular reference to the painful reality facing South Sudan,” the Vatican Press Office said in a bulletin. “At the end of the meeting the Holy Father and the Archbishop of Canterbury agreed that, if the political situation in the country should allow the establishment of a transitional government of national unity in the next 100 days, at the expiry of the agreement signed in recent days in Entebbe, in Uganda, they intend to visit South Sudan together.”
[American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem] John Lent, executive director of American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, issued the following statement on Nov. 14 in response to volleys this week of rocket fire from Gaza and deadly Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian territory after an Israeli airstrike killed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader.
I’m sure you’ve followed the tragic news from Gaza and Israel over the past several days. In the wake of the killing of an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza by Israeli security forces, subsequent missile strikes from Gaza into southern Israel, and retaliatory air strikes by Israel, 34 Gazans – including civilian children and adults, have been killed and 111 have been wounded. Fifty-three Israelis have received medical attention for shrapnel wounds, injuries incurred while seeking protection, and symptoms of acute stress.
As I write, a negotiated truce is in place and security restrictions have been lifted at the borders and in communities in southern Israel. However, no one can predict the stability of the cease-fire or if, in the coming days, the violence will reignite.
We do know this: As American Friends we cannot forget our brothers and sisters at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City who, no matter what each day brings, continue to serve, with dignity and respect, every person who enters the hospital’s gate seeking treatment and comfort.
Suhaila Tarazi, Ahli Hospital’s director, (pictured at left) wrote to us this morning, “Thank you for your prayers. We are deeply concerned by the recently escalated hostilities between Israel and armed groups for the third day. Gaza is full of fear and this has further strained the deteriorated humanitarian situation. Ahli Arab Hospital is playing a big role in treating injuries and victims of trauma who seek our services. Because Ahli is one of the hospitals used by the health system during emergencies, we need to rebuild our stock of medical supplies to meet the needs of Gazans.”
She told us the hospital’s most pressing needs: medicine, medical supplies, screws for orthopedic surgery and diesel fuel to run generators needed because of daily power outages.
I visited Ahli Hospital on October 31. After my visit, I received a note from Suhaila. She wrote, “You have left us with the feeling that we are not alone in this ministry. Without your strong stand beside us it would be difficult for us to continue.” She sent the message to me, but she is talking about you. You are the support structure for Ahli Hospital in this country. You give Suhaila and her team the strength and resources to continue their remarkable Christian witness in Gaza.
Thank you for your prayers for their ongoing ministry and the safety of all people in Gaza and the region. To donate to Ahli and to learn more, visit our website at www.afedj.org.
Today, families in Gaza prepare to bury their dead. Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza attend memorial services and funerals. Below is an intercession for the people of Gaza for use in your personal prayers and to share with your congregation and friends.
With gratitude and hope,
God of peace, whose beloved Son was born not far to the East in Bethlehem, we pray for the people of Gaza that they may be assured of your unfailing love.
Grant them freedom from fear and give them hope for a future safe from harm. In the midst of their sorrow, keep them from despair.
For all who are injured, in mind, body, and soul, we pray they find healing.
For all who have been killed, we pray they find rest.
For all who grieve, we pray they find comfort.
For leaders on all sides, we pray for a renewed will to lay down arms, for the strength to put the grievances and wrongs suffered by their people to rest, and for the conviction to embrace a path of reconciliation and peace that preserves the rights and dignity of all of your children.
God of justice, help us to remember there is no border that can separate us from your great love, no stone that can sound the well of your deep mercy.
Bless our sisters and brothers in Gaza, especially your servants at Ahli Arab Hospital whose loving and tender care for all of their neighbors reveals the face of Christ.
With abiding hope for a just and lasting peace in the land of the Holy One, we ask all this in the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.
[Episcopal News Service] When the Rev. Hannah Hooker traveled last week to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, she brought along her thoughts of a specific stained-glass window back home in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she serves as associate rector of Christ Episcopal Church. The window depicts Bishop Leonidas Polk preaching at the church’s dedication in 1839.
It’s not a conspicuous window – located to one side of the nave, overlooking a breezeway where little light reaches its panes. Only after a longtime parishioner pointed it out did Hooker examine it closely and consider what Polk’s legacy means for her congregation at a time when The Episcopal Church has called on its dioceses and congregations to research and tell the full stories of their historic complicity with slavery, segregation and other systems of racial oppression.
Polk, as missionary bishop to the Southwest and later bishop of Louisiana, was a key figure in the founding of Sewanee in the 1860s, but he died before the opening of the university, killed in battle during the Civil War while serving as a general for the Confederacy. Today, he has become a problematic figure in the churchwide reexamination of Confederate symbols and memorials in worship spaces.
“I sort of am of the opinion that all churches, whether they have Confederate symbols or history, have the opportunity to investigate their own history and sort of own whatever grossness is in their past,” Hooker told Episcopal News Service by phone this week after returning from a three-day Sewanee workshop on those topics.
Hooker and 10 other priests attended the university’s inaugural Confederate Symbols and Episcopal Churches Workshop Nov. 5-7. Each priest came from a Southern parish with historical connections to the Confederacy. Some of the priests lead worship services in churches where Confederate symbols are present. Their congregations generally have not yet engaged in full-throated discussions of those symbols’ meanings.
At Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher, North Carolina, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee are two of the Southern historical figures remembered in stone monuments, more than a dozen in all, arranged in a roadside display outside the church. The rector, the Rev. J. Clarkson, attended the Sewanee workshop on Confederate symbols and described the monuments at his church as “a little bit unusual.”
“Figuring out what the church might want to do with them at this point is … a more complicated discussion,” Clarkson said in an interview with ENS.
The Rev. Rusty McCown brought to the workshop a different example from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, Tennessee, where he is rector. In the parish hall of the 200-year-old church hangs a portrait honoring a prominent early parishioner, but a darker part of the man’s past is hardly acknowledged – that he was a major slaveholder.
“I’m kind of a belief we shouldn’t have any portraits at all,” McCown said, though no changes have been discussed yet at his church. He attended the Sewanee workshop looking for guidance in how to approach such conversations in a congregation where some parishioners may be resistant to change.
He said he came away from the experience better equipped to lead the planning of his congregation’s upcoming 200th anniversary commemorations, knowing that it is important for a church to “own the history and remember that history, but at the same time, how do we go forward with this?”
The Sewanee workshop was a pilot program developed by two seminary graduates, the Rev. Hannah Pommersheim and the Rev. Kellan Day, through the university’s six-year Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation. The research project, named for late history professor Houston Bryan Roberson, aims to tell the fuller story of the university’s founding and first 100 years within social and economic systems built upon racial injustice.
This initial workshop received a $5,000 grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and was only open to Episcopal clergy who are dealing with Confederate symbols at their churches. The workshop’s three parts examined the theological underpinnings of Confederate symbols in worship spaces, provided context for understanding art and symbols and steered participants toward best practices for local action.
Pommersheim and Day, working with Sewanee history professor Woody Register, will review feedback from participants and consider future options, such as offering the in-person workshop for a broader pool of ordained and lay Episcopalians or hosting it online. Another option would be to develop a curriculum that dioceses and congregations can follow on their own.
“These conversations, we want them to be happening in more churches. We want folks to have tools to have these conversations,” Pommersheim told ENS.
The 11 priests who participated in last week’s workshop weren’t expected to return to their congregations and immediately start removing objects connected to the Confederacy, Pommersheim said, though congregations might decide to take such steps after changing and deepening how they engage with their history. “Something actually changing was the goal.”
The Sewanee seminary was among the Episcopal institutions that reassessed their own Confederate symbols in the wake of a deadly August 2017 standoff in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacist groups and counterprotesters, who converged in the city amid a legal dispute over its Confederate statutes.
In September 2017, Sewanee relocated a monument honoring Edmund Kirby-Smith, a 19th-century professor who previously served as a Confederate general, though even before Charlottesville, the debate over Confederate symbols had divided the campus community. Some of the contention centered around how best to represent Polk’s role in the founding of the university without glorifying his Confederate service.
Another focal point for debate has been All Saints’ Chapel. Confederate battle flags were removed from the chapel years ago, but just last year, remaining references to the Confederacy in the chapel’s stained-glass windows generated renewed scrutiny. The university responded in October 2018 by removing a pane from the window that had featured the seal of the Confederacy.
Participants in last week’s workshop on Confederate symbols visited All Saints’ Chapel, turning it into a classroom for lessons on the meaning of art and the assessment of art theologically. Sewanee art professor Shelley MacLaren led one of those discussions. Another session, on best practices for congregations, was led by the Rev. Molly Bosscher, who spent four years as associate rector at Richmond, Virginia’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, once known as the Cathedral of the Confederacy.
The Rev. Jamie Osborne led a session on the theological underpinnings of Confederate symbols in churches. Such symbols are given added spiritual importance when placed in a church, elevating them to “a higher level, a God level” alongside the baptismal font and altar.
Osborne brought to the workshop his own experience in Montgomery, Alabama, where he serves as associate rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The St. John’s vestry decided in February to remove a plaque and pew that had been known as the “Jefferson Davis pew” because church leaders determined its connection to the Confederate president was tenuous at best and its 1925 dedication had been steeped in racism.
“The removal of the plaque and the pew is good for the long-term future of the church,” Osborne told ENS. “But there’s also the deeper conversation of ‘How was it that pew and plaque got there?’”
Those conversations are happening at Episcopal congregations in all regions of the United States, not just the South. Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, removed its own plaque honoring Polk in 2018. More recently, in Boston, the historic Old North Church held a forum in October to discuss its historic links to slavery, acknowledging that slave traders were among the prominent early members who helped pay for the 1740 steeple.
Reexamining centuries-old history goes beyond what certain Episcopal congregations might do about the Confederate symbols on church grounds. It’s about racial reconciliation, said the Rev. John Jenkins, associate rector at St. Paul’s Church in Augusta, Georgia.
“If you have an older church, your church is a Confederate symbol. It’s a symbol of the whole economic system,” Jenkins told ENS after participating in the Sewanee workshop.
Polk’s funeral was held at St. Paul’s in 1864, and the “fighting bishop” once was entombed on the grounds, Jenkins said. A monument honoring Polk takes up space in the sanctuary, as does a flag display that includes a Confederate banner that was known as the Bonnie Blue.
Jenkins participated this year in the Justice Pilgrimage organized by the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in the Diocese of Atlanta, and he hopes to mine that experience and the recent Sewanee workshop to help his congregation decide on next steps.
“We need to take responsibility for learning our history and confronting it truthfully,” he said.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.
[Episcopal News Service – Providence, Rhode Island] Founded in 1939 on Armistice Day – the commemoration of the end of World War I, which now coincides with Veterans Day in the United States – the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, or EPF, was established to promote pacifism and protect conscientious objectors as the world plunged into yet another devastating global conflict.
And some of its leaders today – including the Rev. Bob Davidson, chair of EPF’s national executive council, and the Rev. Will Mebane, vice chair – became involved when EPF supported them as conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War.
“EPF is actually the reason I’m an Episcopalian,” Mebane told Episcopal News Service. Mebane had thought he only had two choices as a conscientious objector: “Go to Canada, or go to prison.” But a friend referred him to an Episcopal priest who connected him with EPF’s resources and invited him to come back to church on Sunday. The rest is history.
However, peace means more than just the absence of war, and EPF’s mission has expanded from its earlier focus to a wider variety of social justice issues, from combating gun violence and sex trafficking to promoting racial reconciliation and criminal justice reform.
“Part of our mission statement is to ‘dismantle’ violence,” Davidson told ENS. “That’s a more active term than ‘be aware of’ or ‘oppose.’ … What we’ve come to understand is the intersectionality of poverty and racism and violence. That … has led us more deeply into racial reconciliation and the awareness of white supremacy, white privilege, as the root cause of so much collective and interpersonal violence.”
That’s why the organization chose to celebrate its 80th anniversary with a two-day series of events focused on racial reconciliation. On Nov. 10, EPF hosted a “Commemoration of Witness” evensong service at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Bristol, Rhode Island – at which Bishop Nicholas Knisely of Rhode Island officiated and the Rt. Rev. Shannon MacVean-Brown, the newly consecrated bishop of Vermont, preached. It was followed by a fundraiser.
The next day, the events continued at the Center for Reconciliation at the Cathedral of St. John in Providence. The cathedral – which remains the seat of the Diocese of Rhode Island – suspended services in 2012 due to financial difficulties, but it has housed the Center for Reconciliation since 2013. Established as a diocesan initiative, the nonprofit center educates the public about the history and legacy of slavery and racism.
With the center mostly operating in the basement of the cathedral, repair work in other areas of the building is ongoing, with the hope of reopening it completely in the future.
“The cathedral had closed just about a month before I was elected bishop, and I was not consulted, but it was presented to me as a closed building, and I set as a goal for myself reopening the building,” Knisely said.
The Center for Reconciliation is an especially useful resource in Rhode Island because, as with much of the Northeast, public awareness of the local impact of slavery is not as acute as in the South, Knisely said – a theme that was repeated throughout the day on Nov. 11.
“The Diocese of Rhode Island in its early days profited directly from the slave industry, and worse than that, a number of our buildings were built by enslaved people,” Knisely said. “As a child … I thought I was in the North and therefore I was exempt from having to feel guilty about this, and I discovered that’s not the case. And I have learned that this is not something that happened a long time ago. This is something that is ongoing, built into the historic inequities in American culture.”
When asked why racial reconciliation work – especially dealing with events that happened centuries ago – is important for Christians now, Knisely explained that progress cannot happen if not everyone understands the full historical context.
“How can I be a person of the Gospel truth if part of my life is blocked from my own understanding?” Knisely asked. “It is impossible for us to have a conversation across racial divides if half of that group knows a history we don’t know. … [Racism] is the original sin of the United States. And gun violence, drug addiction, gender violence – all of that vectors back to the enslavement industry. Capitalism, the way we abuse workers on the assembly line, vectors back to the plantation. Until we go to confession, we have no way of being reconciled.”
The day began with a presentation from Traci Picard, the center’s program and research associate, and volunteer tour guide Mark Burnham on the history of slavery in Rhode Island.
“This is what we call ‘difficult history,’” Picard said.
She spoke of how the state, the church and businesses combined to create a “web of complicity,” even in states like Rhode Island, which lacked the large plantations found in the South but where the economy was heavily based on trade, including the slave trade. Until 1807, Rhode Island was the top slave-trading state in the United States, Picard said, and Rhode Island had some of the strictest laws on runaway slaves.
“We didn’t have a primary crop, like tobacco or cotton,” Picard explained. “The African people were the commodity. That was our primary product.”
In the afternoon, Byron Rushing – the vice president of The Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies and founder of the Episcopal Urban Caucus who also served as a Massachusetts state representative from 1983 until this past January – delivered a keynote speech in which he delved into some of the semantic problems encountered when talking about slavery, racial reconciliation and colonialism.
“Episcopalians, like many Christians, love words that start with the syllable ‘re-,’” Rushing said. “[Those] words have a huge implication: the implication of return. Returning to something that existed. Returning to a different relationship between humans.
“In the ‘re-,’ what was the ‘conciliation’? ‘Re-conciliation’ assumes there was a time when it was not a problem.”
Rushing also took issue with the use of the word “discover” to describe European colonization of Native land, explaining the problem in a modern parable.
“I’m going to go out into the parking lot and I’m going to find your car. I’m going to figure out a way to get into your car. I’m going to get into your car. I’m going to drive your car to Boston! I have ‘discovered’ your car,” Rushing said.
The theft of Native land gave rise to the theft of the labor needed to exploit it, Rushing said.
“You have stolen the land, so you steal the people.”
Rushing then moderated a panel discussion with representatives from all over Province I, who spoke about the various racial reconciliation projects they had undertaken.
When the Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts, decided to hold the 10-part Sacred Ground dialogue series on race and racism developed by The Episcopal Church, co-facilitators Holly Carter and Caitlin Slodden expected about 20 people to sign up to participate in the whole series, while in fact, 88 parishioners did – nearly a third of the congregation in a town whose population is almost completely white.
Carter and Slodden credited the success to robust support from the clergy and vestry and to the fact that Carter, who is black, and Slodden, who is white, are equal partners in running the series, bringing different backgrounds and experiences.
The Rev. Katie Ernst, interim executive director of the Mission Institute, talked about how she successfully lobbied the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of Massachusetts to make changes to the diocese’s vocational discernment process after a black woman left the process because of issues related to race. Through a series of interviews with multiple seminarians and recently ordained clergy of color, the Mission Institute was able to identify patterns of white supremacy within the process, she said, and the commission has made promising changes.
Lee Cheek of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, spoke of her efforts to restore the “erased” history of W.E.B. Du Bois, the black writer and activist who was born in her town but not appropriately recognized and celebrated there. The Rev. Gail Avery described a similar struggle to recognize and honor the contributions of black citizens through the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.
It’s crucial, Cheek said, for white people to personally engage with people of color and witness “the unvarnished truth” of the effects that racism has had on their lives.
The Rev. Rowena Kemp and Suzy Burke, the conveners of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s Racial Healing, Justice, and Reconciliation Ministry Network, spoke of the success they’d had in fostering difficult conversations through pilgrimages, forums, workshops and even theatrical performances, in addition to curating a library of helpful media and resources. They stressed the importance of reaching beyond the intellectual level to a deeper emotional level, a point also raised by Cheek.
“We need to grab people by the heart,” Cheek said.
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Anglican Journal] The Anglican Church of Canada’s first reliably collected set of statistics since 2001 show the church running out of members in about two decades if the church continues to decline at its current rate, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) heard on Nov. 9.
“We’ve got simple projections from our data that suggest that there will be no members, attenders or givers in the Anglican Church of Canada by approximately 2040,” the Rev. Neil Elliot, a priest for the diocese of Kootenay assigned in 2016 by the national church to collect a new set of statistics, told CoGS. Elliot, who reported on 2017 data collected from all of the church’s dioceses, also told the group about ongoing efforts to expand and diversify data collection.
[Episcopal News Service] At its annual convention on Nov. 8 and 9, the Diocese of New York established a task force to examine how it can make meaningful reparations for its participation in the slave trade and committed $1.1 million from its endowment to fund the efforts the task force recommends.
It also passed four resolutions condemning slavery, which had first been introduced by John Clarkson Jay – grandson of founding father John Jay, governor of New York and first chief justice of the Supreme Court – in 1860. At the time, the resolutions were met with fierce opposition from the clergy and laity, many of whom were still profiting from the slave trade, and they had been tabled indefinitely until now, according to the diocese.
New York Bishop Andrew M.L. Dietsche has made racial reconciliation a priority in his diocese, which designated 2017-18 a Year of Lamentations, 2018-19 a Year of Repentance/Apology and 2019-20 a Year of Reparation.
“The legacy, the shadow, of white supremacy which flows from our slave past and continues to poison the common life of the American people … continues to impose extraordinary burdens, costs, hardships and degradation upon people of African descent in our country,” Dietsche said in his address to the convention. “The Diocese of New York played a significant, and genuinely evil, part in American slavery, so we must make, where we can, repair.”
Dietsche noted in his address that in the 18th century, a high proportion of New Yorkers were slave owners, and according to diocesan records, some churches owned slaves as parish servants or “property assets.”
“We have a great deal to answer for,” Dietsche said. “We are complicit.”
At the 1860 convention, Jay, an ardent abolitionist, introduced four resolutions urging the leadership and laity of the diocese to publicly renounce and oppose slavery and slave trading. Importing slaves had been illegal in the United States since 1808, and the last remaining slaves in New York were freed in 1827. However, the Port of New York was still considered “the largest slave market in the world” as late as 1859, being the home port for ships that sailed across the Atlantic to abduct Africans and generate profits for New York merchants.
Jay wanted his diocese to take a firm stand against the human trafficking that continued “in violation of the statutes of the Republics, of the teachings of the Church, of the rights of man, and the laws of God.”
“Enough people rose and left the floor of the convention to deny the action even the possibility of a quorum,” Dietsche said.
Diane Pollard of the diocesan Reparations Committee said it was decided to bring back the resolutions at this convention in part because “it is so painful” to have them still sitting on the table, an unfinished chapter of an ugly history.
“It is painful to people who have family that were slaves,” Pollard said in a video produced by the diocese about the resolutions.
Dietsche referred to the passing of the resolutions as “the fruit of the Year of Apology” but noted that “there is a third and final chapter to this movement, which begins now with this convention, and that is the Year of Reparation.”
In his address, Dietsche called for a previously unannounced resolution “to set aside $1.1 million from the diocesan endowment for the purpose of reparations for slavery.”
Citing Virginia Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary as examples – VTS pledged 1.1 percent of its endowment and Princeton 2.25 percent – Dietsche considered 2.5 percent of the diocesan endowment an appropriate amount, which came to $1.1 million.
“Much smaller, and the resources for significant reparation would be insufficient; much larger, and it might not be something we could do,” Dietsche said. “When I ask that we remove this much money from our modest endowment, I know that this is not a small thing. However, I am sure that any honest process of reparation must require sacrifice and a commitment, not only from our surplus but from our seed corn.”
The resolution included the creation of a task force that will determine how best to structure the reparations effort and make recommendations at the next diocesan convention. Dietsche emphasized that the effort is about more than simply spending money, but he brought up several specific possibilities.
“This money could produce five $10,000 college or seminary scholarships every year in perpetuity,” Dietsche said. “This money could establish and fund an education and advocacy library and resource center in this diocese dedicated to racial justice and reconciliation. This money could support a first-step program in this diocese to invite, nurture and prepare black young people, and men and women, to explore the possibility of ordained ministry. $1.1 million isn’t so much money, but it’s not nothing either, and I look forward with anticipation to the creative possibilities that might come from this initiative.”
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.
[Episcopal News Service] At one point in the mid-19th century, almost all of the residents of Villaescusa, a tiny village in the north of Spain near Santander, were Episcopalians.
It started with one villager who traveled 200 miles to the town of Fuentesaúco, where he bought a Bible, carried it home and began reading it. Then he brought the Bible to his Roman Catholic priest.
“The priest said, ‘This is a Protestant Bible; you cannot have this,’” said Bishop Carlos López Lozano of the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, during a visit with 12 U.S. Episcopalians to Holy Spirit Church in Villaescusa.
The man, Melquíades Andrés, didn’t know anything about being a Protestant; he just wanted to read the Bible. But the priest said, “‘Give me this Bible. I’ll put it in the fire.’” The man did not surrender the Bible and, instead, traveled 222 miles to Salamanca, where he attended his first Episcopal service at the Church of the Redeemer. “He went, he liked the service and then he saw the school,” López explained.
In October, 31 Episcopalians traveled to Spain for a 10-day pilgrimage organized by the United Thank Offering in coordination with the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana through Corazon Travel. The pilgrimage began with Mass at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid. The following day, the pilgrims boarded a bus and drove to the 11th-century walled city of Avila.
In Avila, the group went in two different directions. A dozen people traveled by small bus to Salamanca, where they visited the first of three UTO grant sites; the larger group departed for Sarria, where the next day they began the 62-mile walk along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The two groups would later converge in Arzúa for a pilgrims’ Mass the night before the walking pilgrims completed the journey’s final 12 miles and the groups reunited in Santiago de Compostela.
The “grant-site pilgrims” made stops in Salamanca, where they visited the Atilano Coco Center, an international student center named for Coco, an Episcopal priest and a professor at the University of Salamanca who was assassinated by the Franco regime in December 1936. From there, they visited the rectory that serves as Holy Spirit Church in Villaescusa, and later, they stopped by St. Eulalia, a storefront church serving low-income Spaniards and immigrants in a public housing development on the outskirts of Oviedo.
The grant-site pilgrims, who heard the history of the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, were surprised to learn of the critical impact UTO grants have had on churches and ministries across Spain.
“I knew that we had this long relationship with the Spanish church, but I didn’t realize how [the church was] nearly exterminated and how deliberate that extermination had been,” said Sherri Dietrich, UTO board president, who attends St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Newcastle, Maine. “And what they’ve done since then, and Bishop Lozano and the church people we’ve met, they’re so positive and optimistic. Not pie-in-the-sky optimistic, but they’re just doing what God has called them to do.”
“The [UTO] board, like all church boards, doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on board expenses, so we don’t get to see what our grants have done. You know, we get reports, but we don’t see it firsthand,” she said.
The Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2018. In the years following the Spanish Civil War when the country was under the dictatorial rule of Francisco Franco, the government confiscated the church’s property, with the exception of the cathedral in Madrid, forcing the church underground.
“Twenty-six buildings and 14 schools were taken by Franco,” said López, who led the grant-site pilgrims’ tour. “The church was almost entirely destroyed. People met in a private home with a Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.”
In 1936, when Holy Spirit Church in Villaescusa was forced out of its building, the congregation moved a three-minute walk down the hill to the rectory, where they worshiped until 2008, when the roof collapsed and they moved to the city hall. A $20,000 UTO grant allowed the small congregation to fix the rectory’s roof.
“Seeing where our money went to repair a roof with a congregation that had only 15 people – they would have never been able to do that; they would have had to close again,” said Dee Dugger, a UTO coordinator for the Diocese of Florida and also her parish, Holy Trinity in Gainesville.
Like Dietrich, Dugger appreciated the opportunity to see the results firsthand.
“For me, to be able to see where the money goes that we collect each year, and then to be able to go back and tell my parishioners and my diocesan constituents that every penny counts,” she said, while fighting back tears. “How can we have made [such] a difference in Spain? We have basically saved the Episcopal Church here in Spain,” said Dugger.
In the 1950s, the U.S.-based Episcopal Church became aware of the Spanish church’s challenges, among them having no bishop. So in 1956, two American bishops – Minnesota Bishop Stephen Keeler and Northern Indiana Bishop Reginald Mallett – along with a bishop from the Church of Ireland, which had oversight of the Spanish Episcopal Church at the time, snuck into the country and in secret, consecrated the Rt. Rev. Santos M. Molina in his home in Sevilla.
Mallett and his wife had vacationed in Spain previously and returned under the pretense of tourism, said Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks, who walked the Camino with the UTO pilgrims.
“On the first day, they baptized, confirmed and received a number of people. On the next day, they ordained deacons and priests, and then they ordained the bishop who had been elected [clandestinely],” said Sparks, and when they left, their secret visit hit the newspapers.
“The Episcopal Church in Northern Indiana, our diocese, they’re grateful for the risks that Bishop Mallett took and the other bishops to come and to make it possible for the church to be sustained in the midst of some pretty challenging and life-threatening experiences,” Sparks said.
Then, UTO took notice. “From 1956 until now, UTO has helped us to survive,” said López. To date, the Spanish church’s properties have not been returned, nor has it received compensation, though it formally requested the latter a decade ago.
After Franco’s death in 1975, the church began to rebuild with the continued support of UTO and others. Today, it operates 55 parishes in all major cities and towns in Spain with bi-vocational clergy. Last year, to help celebrate its anniversary, the Spanish church invited the Rev. Heather Melton, UTO’s staff officer, to speak during its kickoff event, and it was from there that she imagined the pilgrimage.
“During that trip, I heard countless stories of how congregations or ministries would not have existed were it not for the funding provided through UTO grants,” Melton told Episcopal News Service. “It was so inspiring to see how far the UTO grants to Spain have gone. I really wanted others to see and experience the church in Spain and the powerful witness of blessings.”
When Melquíades Andrés saw the school at the Church of the Redeemer in Salamanca, he set out to establish an Episcopal church and a school in Villaescusa, where only the children of wealthy families who could hire tutors received an education. From that one church, another five were established in the region.
“Four hundred people, almost all the villagers, became Episcopalians,” said López.
Today, Villaescusa has only 150 to 200 year-round inhabitants, and the 15 to 20 Episcopalians who attend Holy Spirit Church continue to worship in the former rectory, while up the street at 41 Calle Derecha, a Swiss company owns the actual church building, whose front gate stays locked. Still, it’s an active congregation engaged in the community.
“You cannot imagine how important it is to us to have you here and to thank you,” said López, as the pilgrims toured Holy Spirit.
Thank offerings collected during a calendar year are granted the following year. UTO has set aside $60,000 in matching funds for the 2020 grant cycle to help to establish an Anglican Pilgrim Centre in Santiago de Compostela. To date, $23,594 has been raised.
The Anglican Pilgrim Centre would follow those in Jerusalem and Rome, the two other cities most often visited by Christian pilgrims. Like Israel and Italy, Spain has a rich religious history, from the time the Apostle St. James brought Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula just after Jesus’ death to its history as part of the Roman Empire to the Muslim conquest that began in 711 and continued until 1492. Then in 1880, the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain was established by former Roman Catholic priests who began to question the pope’s infallibility and dogma in what was truly a Spanish-led – not an Anglican-led – movement.
Still, the Roman Catholic Church, which aligned itself with the Franco regime, continues to be the state-sanctioned church, receiving $900 million from the Spanish government yearly, and its history is told throughout the country in its many Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals, as the grant site pilgrims would discover. Yet, it was the Episcopal churches and ministries that most impressed the group and brought tears to their eyes.
“It’s just very touching, spiritual and sacred. … It’s holy work, and it feels like holy ground,” said Dugger. “You know, the cathedrals that we’ve been in have been awesome, but these little, tiny, simple churches are more magnificent than the biggest cathedral with all the silver and gold.”
The United Thank Offering was founded in 1890 to support innovative mission and ministry in The Episcopal Church and to promote thankfulness and mission throughout the Episcopal and Anglican churches worldwide. One hundred percent of thank offerings collected are distributed annually in support of projects that address human needs and help to alleviate poverty.
“We say, I don’t know how many times every Sunday, ‘Thanks be to God,’ and I think very few think about it what it is to give thanks and gratitude. What I love about gratitude is that it’s … relational: It means someone has given you something, and there’s really nothing you can do in return. I mean, you can turn it into a transactional thing. But just being grateful and acknowledging that gift, it makes you feel good. It makes you healthier, emotionally and physically,” said Dietrich.
“God asks us to be thankful. He doesn’t ask us, he tells us to be thankful. And I love that it is one of the most obvious things to me that God tells us to do this,” she said. So it’s … a command, but it turns out [that] it feels really good. And it’s so good for us; it brings us closer to God and to others.”
Since it began, UTO has collected and granted $138,629,911.07 in thank offerings to support innovative mission and ministry in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion through 5,257 grants.
– Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.