This is the weekend when many churches open their doors -- or at least their parking lots and gardens -- to all creatures, great and small. Animals are blessed on or near the Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, Catholics' patron saint of animals, birds and ecology.
Pet blessings in honor of St. Francis have migrated into many Protestant churches, and nonreligious organizations have worked the saint into campaigns to save animals.
Our cocker spaniel was blessed last year at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon, and I think it did him a lot of good. Pablo, 5, has been healthy, happy, loyal and loving in the past 12 months, and I'm willing to give at least partial credit to St. Francis and the blessing bestowed by the Rev. Lou Hays, rector of St. Paul's.
Pets filled all the pews at St. Paul's last year. I counted more than 50 dogs, a few cats in carriers and a guinea pig named George. It was the first time St. Paul's had moved its annual animal blessing out of the garden and into the church. There was no barking, biting, hissing or fighting and no "potty accidents." Pets were remarkably well behaved as their people led them up the aisle to the front of the church, where each animal was individually blessed. It was one of the most touching church services I've ever attended.
Two Church of England bishops have denied reports they will resign to take up the Ordinariate before the end the year.
The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Revd Andrew Burnham, and the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Revd Keith Newton, both Provincial Episcopal Visitors, were said this week to have decided to leave the Church of England and had accepted the Pope’s invitation to join an Ordinariate within the Roman Catholic Church.
The Catholic Herald said today: “Senior Anglo-Catholic bishops are likely to take up the Pope’s offer of an Ordinariate before the end of the year.” Bishop Burnham was quoted in The Tablet saying that Pope Benedict XIV had made the offer “and I’ve decided to respond to it”.
The statement, though, is ambiguous, and, in any case, has no date attached to it. Bishop Burnham said on Friday: “If there is to be an announcement, it will be early in the new year.”
Bishop Newton said on Friday that he had not resigned. “There’s nothing definite yet.”
The two bishops will be on study leave from 9 October until the end of December, during which time they are expected to consider the implications of the Pope’s offer.
Earlier this year, Bishop Burnham and Bishop Newton, along with the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd John Broadhurst, travelled to Rome to meet members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (News, 7 May).
The plans for the Ordinariate for ex-Anglicans are gathering pace. One of the last things Pope Benedict XVI said before leaving Britain, and one of the most important, was to emphasise that the Ordinariate is the next step towards Church unity. It was not the step that we were led to expect during the years of negotiation with Anglicans about corporate unity. But it is prophetic – and the prophet in question is our present Holy Father, who believes that Anglicans who already accept the Magisterium of the Church should be given freedom to worship and evangelise in communion with Rome as a matter of urgency.
A new image of the Ordinariate is emerging. When Anglicanorum coetibus was first published, the media and some religious commentators depicted it as a halfway house for “disaffected” Anglo-Catholics who were “defecting” from the Church of England and other Anglican churches around the world. That language is increasingly redundant.
The leaders of the Ordinariate project have passed through their stage of disaffection. As the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, the Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet and one of the architects of the scheme, made clear at an Anglo-Catholic synod held immediately after the Pope’s visit, we will soon see the formation of “small congregations, energetically committed to mission and evangelism and serving the neighbourhood in which they are set”. Similar plans are being drawn up in other countries with a strong Anglican presence: last week, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington was chosen to oversee the formation of Ordinariate parishes in America.
Nine Church of England bishops formed recently a new society for Anglicans who oppose women bishops, but still want to remain in the church and are unwilling to join the Roman Catholic Ordinariate under Pope Benedict XVI.
The Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda was formed to “provide a place within the Church of England where Catholics can worship and minister with integrity without accepting innovations that further distance the Church of England from the greater Churches of the East and West,” Rev. John Ford, Bishop of Plymouth, told the Church Times.
According to the Church Times, the Society materialized during a “sacred synod” meeting in Westminster attended by 460 deacons, priests and bishops to discuss their disquiet with pending women-bishops legislation, and their frustration that the General Synod could not make a provision for their theological position.
The statement was issued by the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, the Bishop of Chichester, the Bishop of Burnley, the Bishop of Beverley, the Bishop of Horsham, the Bishop of Edmonton, the Bishop of Ponterfract, the Bishop of Plymouth, Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS and others, Virtue Online reported.
The Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda will more realistically accommodate those clergy and church members who want to thrive and mature within the Church of England despite the pending legislation, according to The Guardian.
ANCIENT Israelites drank beer as well as wine, and the brew was even acceptable as an offering to God, a biblical scholar has argued.
The Associate Professor of Theology at the Roman Catholic Xavier University in Louisi ana, Michael Homan, believes that the Hebrew word shekhar has been mistranslated in English Bibles to mean liquor or strong drink, when it should be translated as beer.
He said that the mistranslation was clue in part to academic snob bishness, which led scholars to scorn beer drinkers but celebrate the wine-drinking culture.
In an article in the current issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, Professor Homan writes: “This has led many Bible scholars actively to distance biblical heroes from a beer drinking world, much like some Christians prefer to believe that Jesus drank unfermented grape juice despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
The difficulty of finding archaeological evidence of beer drinking — owing to the fact that most of the tools used were also used in bread-making, and that beer was drunk fresh and not stored — had meant that the amount of beer drinking in Israeli society had been under estimated.
“Ancient Israelites, with the possible exception of a few teetotal ling Nazirites and their moms, proudly drank beer — and lots of it . . . all social classes drank it. Its con sumption in ancient Israel was encouraged, sanctioned and inti ately linked with their religion,” he argues.
Unlike today’s brews, ancient beers did not include hops, but were made from creating a barley “cake”, which was placed in water, to which yeast was added, causing fermentation.
Archbishop elect, Onesphore Rwaje, who is set to succeed Anglican Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini in January, 2011, has vowed to follow in his predecessor's footsteps by taking a firm stand against homosexuality.
"Anything that is contrary to God's family set-up is not acceptable; there is nowhere in the Bible where same-sex marriage is encouraged. God created a man and woman to be the basis of a family," the Archbishop-elect told The New Times, a week after he was elected to succeed Kolini.
Rwaje said homosexuality was a practice introduced by individuals who wanted to secularize theology.
The worldwide Anglican community have had to grapple with pro-gay forces from within, ever since Gene Robinson, an openly gay clergyman, was consecrated as Bishop of the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire, US.
The incident sparked widespread criticism by Anglican communities, especially from Africa, Asia, Australia and Southern America.
A new lawsuit [PDF] against the Rt. Rev. Jack L. Iker asks the federal court for the Northern District of Texas to determine who is entitled to use the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth’s seal and other service marks.
As the third bishop of Fort Worth, Iker led a majority of the diocese’s congregations and members in separating from the Episcopal Church in 2008. Of the four dioceses in which the annual convention voted to separate from the Episcopal Church, only Fort Worth retains Episcopal as part of its name.
Suzanne Gill, director of communications for Bishop Iker’s diocese, said the name recognizes what that diocese always has been.
“We are the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, formed, founded and named in 1982,” she said. “Our name is not ‘out of date’ or ‘no longer applicable.’ The word ‘Episcopal’ is a good English word known around the world to mean ‘a Church of dioceses and bishops.’ It does not belong to any one province of the Anglican Communion — or any other Christian Church. We remain Episcopal.”
Katie Sherrod, communications director for the Episcopal Church’s diocese, said the new lawsuit was not prompted by any one incident, such as a dispute between a lesbian couple and the day school at St. Vincent’s Cathedral in Bedford, which declined to admit the couple’s child.
The Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, said today that one of his dreams during his term of office was to consecrate the Anglican Church of Southern Africa's first woman bishop.
Archbishop Makgoba was delivering his Charge to the three-yearly Provincial Synod of the church in Benoni. The synod is his first as Archbishop and Metropolitan of the church.
Opening the synod, the Archbishop said the church was "hugely unrepresentative in relation to gender... Women constitute the majority in our pews, but the reverse is true at every level of leadership, lay and ordained."
The Anglican Church resolved in 1992 to ordain women as priests, but as yet has not elected a woman as a bishop. Unlike some churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion, no separate decision is needed to admit women as bishops.
Archbishop Makgoba told the synod that, in South Africa, "the roles of men and women alike, of every culture, were distorted by apartheid. We need to develop appropriate spiritualities for us all, for contemporary living - that are also channels of healing for the legacies of our brutalising history."
It had been sometime since I had visited a parking lot before a National Football League game. In my previous career, and even during seminary, I followed television camera crews into special parking lots and flashed press passes at the media gates.
So I guess you could say I had never "tailgated" at a Charger game in my hometown of San Diego or, for that matter, anywhere else.
I saw something called a Ravenswalk at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, filled with bands, merchants, contests, games, food and fans. Lots of fans. It was the Baltimore Ravens' home opener and we at the Diocese of Maryland thought we should offer Holy Eucharist in the parking lot for Episcopalians who have to choose between church or football on the handful of Sundays the Ravens are in town.
One of our parishes had done this three seasons ago. The rector then, the Rev. Scott Slater, is now the canon to the ordinary. He encouraged us as we had plans in the works when he joined the staff this summer. It was actually our communications director, Sharon Tillman, who was the catalyst behind this. Not surprisingly she and her family are Ravens fans.
If someone asked you to, could you explain the basic principles of your own religion?
A recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum indicates that most Americans can’t. In fact, not only are a great percentage of Americans narrowly informed on the particulars of other religions, survey results show, they aren’t very familiar with their own, either.
“It’s absolutely essential to be familiar with your own religion; otherwise I don’t know how you could fully practice it,” said Pastor Jeff Hayes of Living Light Baptist Church in Shelby.
Agnostics outscore Protestants
Nearly six in 10 adult Americans say that religion is important in their lives, and about four in 10 say they regularly attend worship services. However, most cannot identify specific tenets and philosophies of their own religions. Overall, atheists and agnostics, Jews, and Mormons scored best on religious questions.
It was 2009 when members of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Temple Hills began to wonder if the church's aging, white population would lead to its demise.
In southern Prince George's County, churches with a traditionally white membership say they are increasing efforts to attract more blacks and other minority members to offset declining congregations that mirror long-term changes in the county's demographics.
Our Saviour's Lutheran, built during the Lutheran church boom in the Washington, D.C., suburbs during the 1950s and '60s, grew to a mostly white population of 300 members until the 1970s, when the county experienced its largest population increase, thanks to baby boomers.
But as more blacks began moving in and whites moved out of the community throughout the '80s, Hakes said, the church began losing as many as 20 members per year. The church now has 35 members, mostly white, with average Sunday service attendance of 20 to 25 people.
For years, the Episcopal Church has been getting older and smaller. The average member is 62 years old. Membership has steadily declined for decades, from its height in the 1950s and 1960s.
But St. Clare’s Episcopal Church in Snoqualmie, along with an increasing number of parishes scattered across the country, is bucking the trend. In six years, the congregation has nearly doubled. In the past two years, it’s grown by about 25 percent.
Four years ago, its future was not clear. The church’s pews were sparsely occupied on Sunday mornings and mostly filled with people with gray hair. Many might have expected the parish to fold when its main building had to be bulldozed after being flooded in January 2006. Instead, the setback gave the congregation new purpose.
“To a person, we would all love to have that building to worship in, but it’s helped the congregation’s relationship with God,” said the Rev. Patty Baker, St. Clare’s vicar since 2004. Today, St. Clare’s is expanding. It has outgrown the community hall it converted into a sanctuary, Sunday school and offices. It is adding two modular buildings to house offices and the church’s new — and popular — Sunday school program.
The Episcopal church of Sudan on Wednesday issued a strong appeal, calling for immediate initiation of the reconciliation and forgiveness processes among political leaders and supporters in the southern state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
Reverend Abraham Yel Nhial, a bishop of the Episcopal diocese for Aweil, in an appeal statement addressed to the state governor and his deputy, advisor for peace and reconciliation, the state peace commission, ministries, assembly, religious leaders, citizens and concerned groups, said it had become evident that the Church in Aweil needs to lead with a strong message of forgiveness and reconciliation in order to promote the holistic transformation of the “beloved state”.
"The urgent need for peace and reconciliation is very important to people of Aweil because with war still going on in Darfur and signs of tensions building up elsewhere in the country, no one knows what is going to happen in 2011,” said Bishop Nhial, in reference to the January vote in which southerners hope to vote on secession from northern Sudan. Preparations for the plebiscite a woefully behind schedule and there are fears that delays could renew violent tensions in the region.
One of the four men who've accused a Georgia mega-church pastor of coercing them into sex called the man at the center of the controversy a "predator" and a "monster."
Jamal Parris, 23, told WAGA-TV in Atlanta that Bishop Eddie Long, leader of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, swept into his life and used him for sex and moved on to younger prey.
"I cannot get the sound of his voice out of my head, and I cannot forget the smell of his cologne, and I cannot forget the way he made me cry when I drove in his car on the way home, not able to take enough showers to get the smell of that man off my body," Parris said in the Tuesday broadcast.
When Parris was 17, he said, Long would take him "alone to the guesthouse" and "encourage him to call him daddy," according to his lawsuit.
A special tribunal of the Anglican Church has found eight of nine conduct charges against a South Australian bishop were proven.
Parishioners in the Murray Diocese have been calling for Bishop Ross Davies' retirement since 2007, raising questions about the diocese's bank accounts and his handling of sex abuse allegations against a former archdeacon.
He resigned while on sick leave over the weekend, but the special tribunal went ahead in his absence in Adelaide this week, recommending on Wednesday that action be taken on eight of the claims against Davies under Anglican church law.
The three newest bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion are having second thoughts about union with the Holy See and are instead engaged in merger talks with the Anglican Province of America-- a separate body of disaffected Anglicans-- according to a letter released by Archbishop John Hepworth, primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion.
“The College of Bishops [of the Traditional Anglican Communion] has been committed to seeking unity with the Holy See since the inception of the Traditional Anglican Communion,” said Archbishop Hepworth. Recalling that the bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion formally assented to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and that Pope Benedict’s apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus-- which provides for the establishment of Anglican ordinariates-- was a response to that petition, Archbishop Hepworth added:
There is no urgent pressure on individuals to join an Ordinariate. Individual discernment and a response in conscience undergird the corporate reunion that is at the heart of Anglicanorum Coetibus. There is no such luxury permitted to bishops, who have the sacred obligation by virtue of their office itself to teach in such a way that clergy and people form a true conscience. A bishop who cannot teach what the College has defined (and what is the universal teaching of the East and the West) has only one option, and that is to stand aside until he can teach in accord with the Church.
From The "You Can't Make Thus Stuff Up" Department. (Mass Division)
The rector of a Hingham church says parishioners trying to hold a post-Mass picnic at the town's beach were interrupted by a Canadian goose being shot in front of them. The Rev. Timothy Schenk of the St. John the Evangelist Episcopal church said that the church was holding its "preach at the beach" Mass last week when parishioners saw two hunters open fire on a small flock of geese.
He said one goose was shot and fell into the water, but did not die immediately. Schenk said parents and children at the picnic were upset about the shooting. He said the Mass was designed for children and to remind them that God isn't just found at the pulpit and in the pews.
A regulation prohibits discharging firearms on town property.
Bishop Lawrence Responds to Request for Investigation September 23, 2010
Dear Members and Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Yesterday a group within the Diocese known as the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina wrote to the House of Bishops and the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church urging them to investigate my actions as Bishop and the actions of our Standing Committee. They have cited seven concerns as the foundation for their request. While these are trying times for Episcopalians and there is much need for listening carefully to one another, I do not want to let these accusations stand or go without response. Perhaps in their anxiety they have done us all a favor — indeed, presenting me with a teachable moment for this diocese and, dare I hope to believe, for others as well who may have read their letter. I will strive to refrain from using ecclesiastical language (Episcopalianese) or unduly difficult theology. Unfortunately, due to the accusations, a certain amount of each is necessary. Nevertheless, I will tune my writing as well as I can for the person in the pew. I will proceed by first putting forth in italics the accusation. In most cases I will just use their language, then, give my response. This could be much longer, but there is little need to try your patience.
The Virginia Supreme Court has refused to reconsider its ruling in an Episcopal Church property dispute.
In June the court overturned a judge's decision giving nine breakaway Episcopal congregations property worth an estimated $30 million to $40 million. The justices said the judge erred when, relying on an 1867 statute, he ruled that the congregations were a branch of the Episcopal Church and could keep the property.
The breakaway congregations asked the justices to reconsider. The court's decision Friday means the case goes back to Fairfax County Circuit Court for further proceedings.
The congregations split from the Episcopal Church in a disagreement over acceptance of gays, the ordination of women and other theological issues, and aligned with the more conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America.
Comparing his dispute with the Episcopal Church to a military battle, Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence has told the diocese that it is "engaged in a worldwide struggle for the soul of Anglicanism in the 21st century."
Lawrence's comments came Sept. 23 in response to a request made the day before by members of an Episcopal Church advocacy group that the church's leadership "investigate" a series of actions which they say "are accelerating the process of alienation and disassociation" of the diocese from the Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina Sept. 22 sent a five-page letter to the Executive Council and the House of Bishops that lists a series of what are called "recent actions and inactions on the part of the diocesan leadership and leaders in parishes and missions within the diocese."
For instance, the letter said, the diocese has "taken no disciplinary measures or legal action" against the leaders of St. Andrew's Church, Mt. Pleasant, since they claimed in March to have led the parish out of the Episcopal Church, or attempted to stop other parishes that appear to be moving in the same direction.
In addition, the letter said, Lawrence has charged that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is intruding on the diocese's "sovereign" nature by asking questions about the diocese's intention regarding such parishes. The group also expresses concern about Lawrence's treatment of what it calls a group of "loyal Episcopalians" who have formed St. Mark's Chapel in Port Royal.
After being chased from their churches in Harare and its suburbs members of Bishop Chad Gandiya’s Anglican congregation came up with a brilliant idea. They decided they could build other churches while the disputed ones were still being fought over in the courts.
One congregation in Chitungwiza had just completed building a church in Unit M when two weeks ago police with “orders from above” pounced. They ordered the congregants to leave the church and Bishop Nolbert Kunonga possessed it. Now he has given one of his followers the right to the property.
The police have been known to side with Kunonga in the whole Anglican saga but it defies logic that they would help him take possession of a church which is outside the disputed ones. There is an interesting contradiction in Kunonga’s character. He claims his beef with the mainstream Anglican Church is about its support of homosexuality.
He has ready support in this from President Robert Mugabe.
But let’s take a look at Kunonga as a heterosexual male. According to him it is right to bar people from worshipping their God. He is prepared to have woman and children battered by thugs for the simple reason that they have congregated in a church that they built and have been praying at all their lives. It is right according to him to bar pilgrims from all over the world to pray at one of the most revered Anglican shrines in the world — the Bernard Mizeki memorial.
Homosexuality is a subject that is not talked about openly in Zimbabwe; I don’t understand it myself. But I have not heard of a single homosexual who has barred people from praying to their God.
It turns out that Kunonga is not the only rogue bishop in the world. He has now got support from an Ecuadorian bishop who has turned against the mainstream church. His name is Bishop Walter Roberto Crespo. He was in Zimbabwe recently and voiced his support for Kunonga and also launching a broadside at those in the Anglican Church who support gay rights.
Little did several parishioners from St. Andrew's Episcopal Church know when they opened a food bank at their church how much the community need would grow.
What began with an average of about 31 families per month in its first nine months has surged to more than 30 families each of the two nights a month it is open. Supported by nearby Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hanover Township and Church of Notre Dame of Bethlehem, the pantry is doing its best to keep up with demand.
"We are very surprised how many people are coming in to our program," said Craig Updegrove, director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Interfaith Food Pantry. "Well, I am, but I'm not. They way the economy is, it has really changed people utilizing this."
The pantry is open two nights a month and provides about three days' worth of food per family at a time. Families are only allowed to come once a month.
It is accepted wisdom that the newly beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) and his associates in the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement were influences in the faith formation of members of the Episcopal Church in the United States, including some who followed Newman's path of conversion to Roman Catholicism. Less appreciated are the stories of made-in-the-USA Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholic converts, contemporary or even antecedent to Newman, and probably influential in the Cardinal's own spiritual odyssey.
Though there may not have been a "movement" in America of scope, celebrity, academic prestige and literary heft to compare with that of the Oxford divines, there were notable moves by individuals that deserve their place alongside Newman's.
To give two clichés some well deserved mangling, not all of the great 19th-century Crossings of the Tiber took place Across the Pond.
During the early days of the American Republic, when much of the Empire State was still frontier territory, Christian clergy of every church and denomination were pressed to emphasize pastoral duties above intellectual pursuits. John Henry Hobart (1775-1830), an Anglo-Catholic and one of the first leaders of the Episcopal Church following American Independence, was exceptional in his integration of scholarship with pastoral and charitable endeavor. As assistant minister at fashionable Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, he inspired a parishioner, a young society matron named Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, to deepen her faith and involve herself in direct care for the poor. Arguably the most startling event during his tenure at Trinity was Mrs. Seton's conversion in 1805 to the humble parish of St. Peter's, the only Roman Catholic church in New York City.
An Episcopal advocacy group has requested an investigation of the leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina with regard to the withdrawal of parishes from the denomination.
The Episcopal Forum accused leaders in the diocese of "accelerating the process of alienation and disassociation" from The Episcopal Church.
"The Ecclesiastical Authority (the Diocesan Bishop or the Standing Committee) has done nothing to stop other parishes which outwardly appear to be moving in the direction of withdrawal from TEC," the group wrote in a letter sent this week to bishops throughout the national church body.
The group, which supports preserving "unity with diversity" in the denomination, also called The Episcopal Church to look into the lack of disciplinary action against a parish that left the South Carolina diocese earlier this year, and the removal of all "Episcopal" references in the names and websites of dozens of parishes.
"Actions and inactions of the Bishop appear to be tantamount to an abandonment of the polity of The Episcopal Church," the group argued.
Episcopalians transformed a Galt House ballroom into a sanctuary with icons, banners and majestic sacred music Saturday for the consecration of Bishop Terry Allen White as the new leader of the Diocese of Kentucky.
“Rejoice, people of Kentucky — you have called a listener,” the Rev. Canon Susan L. Sommer told hundreds of worshippers in her sermon, including rows of clergy and bishops, a brass ensemble and a large choir.
“He has an enormous capacity to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit both within the community that he leads and as well as within his own heart,” said Sommer, the priest-in-charge of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, Mo., who worked with White when he was dean of the cathedral there.
White assumes leadership in a small but historic diocese with 9,856 members and 34 congregations in central and western Kentucky, including Louisville. His election by a diocesan convention in June was later ratified by the national church.
Over the last two decades, Bishop Eddie L. Long has built a religious and financial empire from scratch, transforming a small, faltering church into a modern cathedral with one of the largest and most influential congregations in the country.
Today, Bishop Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church includes a multimillion-dollar network of charities and businesses, a private school and the Samson's Health and Fitness Center, where he holds court and pumps iron with young people.
His message that God wants people to prosper has attracted celebrities, professional athletes and socialites, swelling the membership to 25,000. The church hosted four U.S. presidents for the funeral of Coretta Scott King in 2006.
The rapid expansion of the church -- often called "Club New Birth" because it attracts so many young black singles -- has also made Bishop Long a powerful political player, especially in DeKalb County, home to one of the wealthiest black communities in the country. The church has become a mandatory stop for many politicians -- local, state and national -- and Mr. Long supports candidates of both parties.