Saturday, January 18, 2014

When it comes to church growth, it's not the theology, stupid

From The Guardian-

One of the most persistent myths about contemporary Christianity is that only evangelical churches grow while liberal Christianity is doomed because it's too wishy-washy. This is believed with pleasure by evangelicals, with despair by ageing liberals, and without thought by the chattering classes. As you'd expect, it's nonsense, and we have just had more proof.

To judge from the spin on the Church of England's most recent report, everything is completely marvellous: churches all over the country are growing, especially congregations outside traditional church buildings. Nearly one in five of the congregations surveyed had grown in the 10-year period covered. On the other hand, a rather larger proportion – a bit more than one in four – had declined, while most had stayed steady.

This comes from a conference on Church Growth (as the Church of England calls the field of church decline) to consider the latest and most accurate statistics on the matter.

More here-

Friday, January 17, 2014


From The American Reader-

Following the publication of A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor received a note from a young woman named Betty Hester telling her that God was the book’s central subject. Amid the flurries of reviews calling O’Connor’s book cruel and sarcastic, Hester’s letter was welcome reading. It ignited a nine-year friendship and a prolific correspondence. Faith and religion was their dominant focus. A devout Catholic, O’Connor even persuaded Hester to join the church, acting as her confirmation sponsor. Below, O’Connor discusses the merits of late-in-life baptisms and her early fights with angels.

To Betty Hester

17 January 1956

I’m never prepared for anything. I felt sure you were 7ft. tall and ash blonde and you turn out to be dark and shaped like a ginger beer bottle and I have been equally positive that you were a Pantheist in good standing with whatever they’re in good standing with and now you allow you’re as orthodox as I am if not more. More, I suppose, as baptism is something you choose and I had it thrust upon me. To my credit it can be said anyway that I never considered you unbaptized. There are the three kinds, of water, blood, and desire, and with the last I thought you as baptized as I am. So that may be the reason I a have nothing to say about this when I ought to say something. All voluntary baptisms are a miracle to me and stop my mouth as much as if I had just seen Lazarus walk out of the tomb. I suppose it’s because I know that it had to be given me before the age of reason, or I wouldn’t have used any reason to find it.

More here-

Sir Hector Sants to Chair Archbishop's Task Group on Credit Unions and the Financial Sector

From Anglican News-

Sir Hector Sants, former Chief Executive of the Financial Services Authority and Head of Compliance and regulatory affairs for Barclays Bank, has accepted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to chair a Task Group to help support the growth of Credit Unions as part of a more competitive financial sector which encourages responsible lending and saving.

The Task Group will develop the Church of England’s on-going support for local credit unions (web link) while working with the wider financial sector to build support for more competitive and community-based financial services. It will mobilise some of the offers of support and assistance which the Archbishop received following his comments in the summer. The Task Group will meet for the first time at the end of January.

Members of the Task Group include the bishops of Stepney and Hull, representatives of the credit union movement, and members with senior level experience in the banking and regulatory sectors.

More here-

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bishop Sean Rowe is Provisional Bishop Nominee

From Bethlehem PA-

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, a group of elected clergy and lay leaders, announced today that the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is the nominee for provisional bishop of Bethlehem. The convention at which the diocese’s clergy and lay representatives will vote on Bishop Rowe’s nomination is set for March 1.

Rowe would continue as bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania under the proposed arrangement, which would continue for three years. “The Standing Committee chose Bishop Sean as our nominee for provisional bishop because of his stable, forward-thinking leadership in Northwestern Pennsylvania,” said the Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns, president of the Standing Committee in Bethlehem and rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton. “He has a strong track record of building relationships with clergy and lay leaders and proven skill at resolving conflict directly and effectively. We’re pleased that the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania has so readily agreed to undertake this innovative arrangement with us.”

“I am honored to be nominated as provisional bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem,” said Rowe. “Across the Episcopal Church, dioceses are seeking innovative ways to pursue 21st century mission and ministry. I am pleased to have this opportunity to help transform the church by fostering collaboration and developing new models for mission that will strengthen the witness of the Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the work of God’s people in our communities.”

More here-

Are Liberals Too "Special" to Go to Church?

From Religion Dispatches-

New research from psychologists from the New York University suggests that the desire to feel unique can undermine consensus, cohesion, and mobilization—at least in political contexts.

My hunch is that this may extend to religious contexts as well.

Chadly Stern and colleagues reported in the journal Psychological Science in November 2103 on the findings of a study on “truly false uniqueness” and “truly false consensus” among political liberals, moderates, and conservatives.

The study looked at two things. First, the researchers considered the degree to which participants over- or underestimated their sense that their beliefs were the same as those of others in the same political grouping (liberal, moderate, conservative). Second, the team measured the degree to which participants in the study were motivated by a desire to feel unique versus a desire to feel the same as others in their group.

Overall, Stern, et al found that “liberals underestimated their similarity to other liberals, whereas moderates and conservatives overestimated their similarity to other moderates and conservatives.”

More here-

Holy hymnal: Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to sing all 720 hymns to raise money for trip to England

From Oregon-

This sounds crazy, but church choirs gotta do what they gotta do. On Sunday, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Choir plans to sing every hymn in the book. That's 720 hymns, covering Christmas, Easter, all four seasons, phases of life and odes to saints. The public is invited to come and go, sing along and pledge money during the free event.

The choir, under Michael Kleinschmidt's direction, is raising money for a trip to England in August. It's been invited to be the choir-in-residence at Bristol Cathedral for a week while the Bristol choir is on summer break.

Trinity Choir's 46 members will sing one verse of each hymn, accompanied by Kleinschmidt or his assistant, Christopher Keady. They are collecting pledges, so do the math: A dime per hymn = $72. $1 per hymn = $720. It's one of several fundraising events to raise a total of $35,000, Kleinschmidt says.

"This is a great way for an American church choir to stretch and grow as musicians," he says.

"It's a treasure trove of sung prayers and praises. Like a good book, it reads you more than you read it."

More here-

Episcopal Diocese of Mass. unveils 5 nominees to succeed Bishop M. Thomas Shaw

From Massachusetts-

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts early this morning announced five nominees for bishop, chosen by a lay committee over the course of the last few months.

Clergy and lay representatives will choose a successor to Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, who has led the local church for nearly two decades, on April 5 at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. With the consent of a majority of the bishops and dioceses of the Episcopal Church of America, the new bishop will be consecrated Sept. 13.

The five nominees include the Rev. Holly Antolini, the rector of St. James’s Church in Cambridge; the Rev. Ronald Culmer, the rector of St. Clare’s Church in Pleasanton, Calif.; the Rev. Alan Gates, the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio; the Rev. Ledlie Laughlin, rector of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia; and the Rev. Sam Rodman, project manager for campaign initiatives for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

Other names may be added to the list during a petition period, which ends Jan. 31.

The public will have an opportunity to get to know the nominees during a “walkabout” period in mid-March, when meet-and-greet sessions will be held at a variety of parishes.

More here-

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Archbishop of Canterbury meets Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

From Christian Today-

The Archbishop of Canterbury met His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on Monday during a two-day visit to Istanbul.

During the meeting, concerns were raised about the hardships being experienced by Christians in the Middle East.

In his welcoming address, Patriarch Bartholomew spoke of his hope to see the visit "strengthen the bond of mutual love" between the Orthodox and Anglican Churches.

"At this present moment, as Anglicans and Orthodox, we share in particular a joint concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East, who are confronting increasing problems and, in many places, are undergoing a veritable persecution," he said.

Archbishop Justin Welby was in Istanbul at the invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who as Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome occupies the First Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church.

In an address, the Archbishop spoke of his commitment to the reconciliation of Eastern and Western churches.

More here-

Missing Jesus statue returned to church

From Georgia-

Parishioners of the Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on Walton Way were reunited Sunday with their missing Jesus statue. The 4-foot resin statue, worth about $5,000, disappeared last March during Holy Week.

The Rev. Robert Fain, the church’s senior pastor, said the statue was returned by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office after deputies found it propped up against a tree among other abandoned items behind a McDowell Street home.

The garments on the statue are damaged, its hands have been painted purple and some fingers are chopped off, but Fain said the church plans to hang the artwork as it is, at least for now.

“Jesus came to make things right between God and mankind everywhere,” Fain said. “With the statue being returned in a marred state, it kind of resembles our responsibility to God, and how much he loves us and is willing to endure for our imperfections.”

More here-

Up to 300 civilians die fleeing fighting in South Sudan

From Columbus & The New York Times-

The Right Rev. Hilary Garang Deng, the Episcopal bishop of Malakal, said he had received reports of the panic onshore, with people “running for their lives, fearing because the rebels were advancing.”

Deng, who is in Juba, the capital, said there was little concrete information on the disaster because phone service in the city had been cut.

Rebel forces attacked Malakal, the capital of the oil-rich state of Upper Nile, once again yesterday, officials said. The city has traded hands twice in the conflict, with the rebels capturing it, then retreating in the face of a government assault in late December.

On Sunday, according to Doctors Without Borders, 94 gunshot victims arrived by boat at a hospital in another city, wounded in the fighting on the front line outside Malakal.

More here-

National Cathedral opens worship space to free classes and more to boost profile, coffers

From The National Cathedral-

When Congress authorized the creation of Washington National Cathedral in 1893, it envisioned a national spiritual home. Decades later, it became a setting for presidential funerals, sermons by the likes of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and worship services for epic national tragedies such as Newtown and Sept. 11.

Seeking to transform the historic institution’s mission and heighten its public profile, the cathedral’s leaders recently removed the thousands of chairs usually in its 10-story Gothic worship area for a week of unconventional events in a suddenly changed empty but dramatic space.

On Monday night, the nave was filled with dozens of people in socks after a lesson by a tai chi master with a silver sword. On Wednesday, a chorus will perform an unusual 40-part song while walking across the marble floor (cathedral officials call this “extreme polyphony”). On Friday, the soaring space will be open for an all-night vigil and be stocked with yoga mats and meditation cushions.

More here-

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pope Francis's new cardinals mark a rebalancing in the church

From The Guardian-

And then there is the parochial news: Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, has finally got his hat. This is in part a reward for loyalty and competence but it will also strengthen his hand in the coming struggles within the English Catholic church. Nichols has been attacked by a traditionalist minority for his tolerant presentation of church teachings and his lack of enthusiasm for the theatrical approach to liturgy. Like the rest of his clergy, he was not at all keen on the ordinariate, Pope Benedict's scheme to attract Anglican clergy who wanted to escape from women priests. There is no sign that Francis has any interest in that group at all.

But Nichols will soon face a real challenge: the church is consulting its members on what they think of such matters as the ban on birth control and the exclusion of remarried couples from communion. We actually already know what most English Catholics think of these teachings: they think they are nonsense and ignore them. But official questionnaires, such as are going the rounds of English parishes now, make the policy of silent compromise much harder. If the laity find their opinions have been solicited, and then once more ignored, this will weaken the church still more.

More here-

Anglican Archbishop meets Batholomew in Istanbul visit

From Turkey-

Head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby met with Fener Orthodox Greek Patriarchate Bartholomew in Istanbul on Jan. 13 during the first day of his two-day visit to Turkey.

Archbishop Welby held a one-on-one meeting with Bartholomew at the Fener Orthodox Greek Patriarchate in Istanbul’s Balat neighborhood on Jan. 13.

Welby attended a reception at the Pera house, where Bartholomew was not present due to health problems.

The meeting was the first since Welby was enthroned as the Archbishop of Canterbury about one year ago.

Welby is set to hold a discussion with the Synodical Committee for Inter-Christian Affairs as part of his two day visit.

The Istanbul Syriac Orthodox Church Metropolitan Yusuf Çetin and orthodox and protestant community members living in Istanbul were present in the reception.

More here-

Church sends memo to US President, Congress on South Sudan crisis

From ENS-

A Jan. 10 memo to the Obama Administration and members of U.S. Congress sent by the Episcopal Church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations outlines the current crisis in South Sudan and makes recommendations urging the government and the international community to partner with South Sudanese civic and faith leaders to stem the tide of violence and build peace.

The six-page memo, based on the firsthand accounts of church leaders on the ground in South Sudan and Episcopal and Anglican partners worldwide, conveys the church’s understanding of the current crisis that has engulfed the world’s newest nation. The memo touches on four areas specifically: public representation of the conflict and accountability; foreign assistance; human rights protection and the prevention of mass atrocities; and building a future of peace.

“Episcopalians in the United States and around the world have maintained long and close relationships with Episcopalians in South Sudan,” said Alexander Baumgarten, director of government relations for the Episcopal Church.   “As a result, we have a responsibility to share the unique and compelling perspectives of partners in South Sudan who are playing a peacemaking role in the midst of extraordinary upheaval and violence.”

More here-

Anglican vs. Episcopalian legal fight in Valley nearing an end

From San Joaquin- (with legal brief)

In a Fresno courtroom Monday, Anglican Bishop John-David Schofield's presence loomed large in the long, legal battle between the U.S. Episcopal Church and the breakaway Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin.

Schofield, who died in October, is a key witness in a Fresno County Superior Court civil trial that will determine who owns dozens of pieces of property -- the Anglican diocese or the national Episcopal Church?

The bishop gave his videotaped deposition in late 2011, long after he led 40 of 47 parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin away from the national Episcopal Church to form the Anglican Diocese of the San Joaquin.

The video was played Monday on a big- creen to a packed courtroom, with many of the onlookers supporters of Schofield. Among them was the Rev. Gordon Kamai, pastor of Anglican Christ Church in Oakhurst, who said he feared the national Episcopal Church will just sell the property for non-Christian purposes. "It belongs to the congregations," he said.

In December 2007, an overwhelming number of the diocese's members voted to split from the national church because of disagreements over such issues as same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay bishops. The Anglican diocese holds to a more conservative theology.

Read more here:

Monday, January 13, 2014

100 years young: Elizabeth Alfred presides at her centenary Eucharist

From Australia-

There have been many ‘firsts’ for Anglican women clergy in recent years, but surely the Eucharist celebrated by the Revd Elizabeth Alfred on 10 January this year must outshine them all. Ms Alfred must be the first woman priest, if not the first priest, to preside at Holy Communion on her 100th birthday!

On 13 December 1992, Ms Alfred was the first woman ordained priest in Melbourne, when Archbishop Keith Rayner ordained 12 women in a long-awaited historic ceremony. She was 78, well beyond retirement age, but Archbishop Rayner had promised this significant pioneer that age would not prevent her ordination when it finally became possible.

Her first Eucharistic celebration was at St James’, Dandenong, the parish where she had ministered as a deaconess – she became a deaconess in 1944 – and then as a deacon after she was ordained at the first diaconal ordination of women in Australia in 1986.

Her centenary birthday Eucharist was, most appropriately, back at St James’, and the church was packed. The preacher, former St James’ vicar the Revd Alan Baker, pondered whether this was another "first": has any other woman ministered in the same place as deaconess, deacon, and priest?

More here-

Archbishop of Canterbury to visit Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul

From Ecumenical News-

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is traveling to Istanbul on Monday to visit the man considered by many as the spiritual head of Eastern Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

A statement on the Anglican Communion website says, "Archbishop Justin hopes that the visit will help to develop greater fellowship between the two churches and contribute to the goal of Christian unity."

The two day visit will include the first meeting in Istanbul between the Ecumenical Patriarch and Welby, who once worked in the banking and oil industry, since he became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Welby was enthroned as spiritual head of the Church of England and symbolic head of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion in March 2013.

"As Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew occupies the First Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church," says the Anglican Communion website.

More here-

Pittsburgh commemorates composer's legacy

From Pittsburgh-

Foster's well-attended funeral service was held Jan. 21 at Trinity Church, which stood on the site of the present Episcopal cathedral on Sixth Avenue, Downtown. The church choir and soloist Henry Kleber, who had taught Foster music theory, sang, but the story in the next day's paper makes no mention of any of Foster's songs being performed in the church.

After a final prayer by the pastor, the Rev. C.E. Swope, "the assemblage was dismissed and the remains of the deceased were slowly borne from the church, and followed to the grave by a large concourse of friends."

Foster's tunes were heard that day in Allegheny Cemetery, according to the Gazette. As the composer was laid to rest, a band played "Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming" and "Old Folks at Home," "two of Mr. Foster's most pleasing and popular compositions."

Read more:

Cardinal, Methodists building ecumenical bridges

From The Boston Globe-

One freezing winter day when he was a child, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley told a congregation of Catholics and Methodists Sunday afternoon, the pipes in his house burst and his father opened the phone book to find a plumber.

O’Malley’s mother sang out, “Be sure you call a Catholic!”

These days, O’Malley said, the split between Catholics and Protestants has been replaced with a “new polarity . . . between believer and nonbeliever,” a shift that should spur Christians to greater cooperation.

Christians also share a common enemy, he added: what Pope Francis has called “the globalization of indifference” to those who are poor and suffering.

More here-

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Did Canterbury Cathedral miss a trick turning down Harry Potter role?

From England-

Kent is no stranger to the big screen. Providing the backdrop to some of Hollywood’s most successful blockbusters, it has become a firm favourite for film companies.

And with its combination of historic buildings and varied coastline it is no wonder.

Les Miserables, Sherlock Holmes and World War Z all featured scenes that had been shot in the county.

But in among the long list of big hitters there remains one that got away:

Harry Potter.

The franchise, now thought to be worth billions, could have had its roots planted firmly in Kent.

Back in 2000, before anyone imagined what a runaway success the films would be, Warner Bros approached Canterbury Cathedral to ask that it be used as the location for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – the school that Harry Potter and his chums attend in the JK Rowling books.

At the time, the cathedral said a “generous” offer had been made but it was turned down due to concerns at the stories’ use of pagan imagery.

Christianity warns against engaging in pagan rituals and witchcraft.

Instead, Gloucester Cathedral stepped in to fill the role of Hogwarts.

More here-

Without water, soup kitchens still serving hungry

From West Virginia-

Charleston soup kitchens are continuing to feed people even though they don't have usable water because of the chemical leak in the Elk River.

Residents in eight counties and part of a ninth have been ordered not to use tap water for any purpose. In the meantime, soup kitchens are continuing to find ways to feed the hungry.

Jean Simpson, director of Manna Meal, a soup kitchen and day shelter, said that Manna Meal had a large amount of prepared food, more than they usually have because it is right after the holidays. She said that they have been able to distribute that food even without water.

More here-