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Anglicans respond to Hurricane Dorian devastation

Episcopal News Service - Tue, 09/10/2019 - 4:03pm

[Anglican Journal] When Archdeacon Keith Cartwright, archdeacon of the southern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, visited Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, he thought he would never see anything close to that level of devastation again. But now, surveying the damage in his own diocese in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, he sees that catastrophe mirrored. “Everything has been decimated,” he says.

Cartwright likens the destruction to “if you were chewing something and then you just spit it out. That’s how it looked. It was a horrific scene.”

Read the full article here.

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What the Anglican Church of Canada’s same-sex marriage vote means for its future

Episcopal News Service - Mon, 09/09/2019 - 4:37pm

Sydney Brouillard-Coyle (left), a youth delegate from the Diocese of Huron who identifies as gender non-conforming, queer and asexual, receives a blessing from Primate Linda Nicholls at the closing Eucharist of General Synod 2019. Photo: Geoff Howe/Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal] The Anglican Church of Canada General Synod’s failure to pass a resolution to amend the marriage canon to expressly allow solemnization of same-sex marriage, followed by a communiqué from the House of Bishops effectively commending diocese-based decisions on the matter, has triggered a wave of responses across the church. Bishops, priests, laity, officers and deacons alike have weighed in with concerns about the decision. Some bishops, including then-Primate-elect Linda Nicholls in her capacity as bishop of Huron, have outlined plans to exercise a local option for same-sex marriage in their dioceses. 

Resolution A052-R2, for the second reading of an amendment to Canon XXI on marriage in the church, failed to achieve a required two-thirds majority vote in all three orders of General Synod. While two-thirds of the Order of Laity (80.9%) and Order of Clergy (73.2%) voted in favor of the resolution, less than two-thirds (62.2%) voted in favor in the Order of Bishops. 

The final breakdown of the vote, which took place on July 12 at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre, was as follows: The Order of Laity saw 89 members (80.9%) vote “Yes” and 21 members (19.1%) vote “No,” with one abstention. The Order of Clergy had 60 members (73.2%) voting “Yes,” 22 members (26.8%) voting “No,” and two abstentions. In the Order of Bishops, 23 members (62.2%) voted “Yes” and 14 members (37.8%) voted “No,” with two abstentions. 

In statements released after the vote, multiple dioceses declared their intention to perform same-sex marriages regardless of the marriage canon vote—basing their decisions on General Synod’s approval of the document “A Word to the Church,” which affirms “diverse understandings of the existing marriage canon” and that “the existing canon does not prohibit same-sex marriage.” 

The initial announcement of the vote results left many synod members visibly in shock, with some crying. Almost immediately, delegates approached the microphones and asked about the process by which General Synod could reconsider a vote. But Primate Fred Hiltz, acknowledging the “pain in this place,” soon moved to dismiss synod for the night. 

The emotional upheaval caused by the results led to official statements from all levels of the church. First to respond on July 15 was the House of Bishops, whose members had played the decisive role in voting against the motion. 

“We, members of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, see the pain and anguish inflicted on LGBTQ2S+ people, on members of the General Synod, across the church, and in the world, as a result of the work and the vote on the matter of Canon XXI, concerning marriage,” the bishops’ statement read. “We see your tears, we hear your cries, and we weep with you. We have caused deep hurt. We are profoundly sorry.” 

The bishops noted that General Synod had “overwhelmingly approved” the “A Word to the Church” document and that the bishops affirmed the right of Indigenous peoples and communities to “spiritual self-determination in their discernment and decisions in all matters.” But perhaps most consequential was their declaration that different levels of the church may make their own decisions on the matter of same-sex marriage. 

“We are walking together,” the bishops wrote, “in a way which leaves room for individual dioceses and jurisdictions of our church to proceed with same-sex marriage according to their contexts and convictions, sometimes described as ‘local option.’” 

Prolocutor Cynthia Haines-Turner and deputy prolocutor Peter Wall next released a statement which acknowledged the “pain, hurt and anguish of many people in this General Synod and beyond, particularly in the LGBTQ2S+ community, their families and friends,” and noted the support of synod for the affirmations in “A Word to the Church.”

Their statement also alluded to a proposed constitutional review before the next General Synod in 2022, later adopted by General Synod as Resolution C005. The prolocutor and deputy prolocutor, it said, “strongly endorse the proposed actions of this Synod calling for work, in the next triennium, on our governance structures, size and composition of synod, and planning for the future.” 

A third statement came from clergy and lay delegates at General Synod, who noted that their respective orders had voted “by overwhelming majorities” in favor of the marriage canon amendment, and that they were “saddened and dismayed” that the change had been blocked by the vote in the Order of Bishops. 

The lay and clergy delegates who signed the statement affirmed “the full inclusion of LGBTQ2S+ people in the life, leadership, liturgies and sacraments, including marriage, of the Anglican Church of Canada.” Basing their statement on “A Word to the Church,” they affirmed that “same-sex marriage can and will proceed by local option.” They apologized for the “hurt and harm that has been caused by the actions of this synod and by our church to LGBTQ2S+ people” and called for the church to “end this harm.” 

As the vote revealed, the Anglican Church of Canada is not of universal opinion on same-sex marriage. On July 18, the Arctic House of Bishops — which includes some of the most outspoken opponents of the failed marriage canon amendment — released a statement declaring that General Synod “has given us permission to decide for ourselves what direction we should take. We choose now to walk as the self-determining Anglican Church of Canada in the Arctic.” 

Concerns that this statement meant the diocese might be leaving the church prompted a clarifying statement from the Arctic bishops: “The Diocese of the Arctic remains a diocese within the Anglican Church of Canada, but must distance itself from those who violate the marriage canon. The implication of this is a state of ‘impaired communion.’ By using the phrase ‘self-determining,’ we are reserving the right not to affirm or submit to decisions that violate the doctrine of the church on marriage.” 

Speaking to the Anglican Journal, Bishop David Parsons highlighted the mission statement of the Arctic diocese and its right to self-determination in line with biblical teachings. 

“We have not left,” Parsons reiterated. “We are following the teachings that have gone down through the centuries…ever since the missionaries first came to the Arctic and brought the gospel which we as Arctic people embrace. We’re continuing that, and as weak as we are, we will continue to seek God.” 

“The Anglican General Synod has given us permission as an Indigenous church to determine what we’ll do, and we are exercising that right,” he added. “I would be very sad to hear if the Anglican Church of Canada, because we are now exercising that right, did anything to try to kick us out. The problem is, we’re not leaving. But we’re not following false teachings.” 

The Association of Anglican Deacons in Canada board released its own statement on July 20, noting that the process and decision on the marriage canon vote had been “shocking, hurtful, frustrating and deeply disappointing” for many deacons. 

The statement expressed confusion over the failure to change the canon by a “small minority of our church,” whom they described as “holding the church back from joyfully offering everyone, without restriction, the sacrament of marriage. This ‘no’ to same-sex marriage seems devastating to our work as deacons.” It pointed again to the affirmations in A Word to the Church, the continued blessing of same-sex marriages using the “local option,” and forthcoming efforts to review the governance structures of General Synod. 

In the wake of the vote, bishops and archbishops in numerous dioceses expressed their plans to offer marriage rites to same-sex couples through the local option, all citing the affirmations in A Word to the Church. 

Among these diocesan leaders was Archbishop Ron Cutler, who said in a Facebook post that he would use his episcopal authority to do so in the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Archbishop Melissa Skelton released a pastoral letter saying that she would authorize the marriage of same-sex couples within the Diocese of New Westminster beginning Aug. 1, subject to certain conditions such as the approval of parish councils. Bishop John Chapman declared in a statement that the Diocese of Ottawa would continue the practice of allowing same-sex marriage with the bishop’s permission. 

Of these diocesan statements, perhaps the most significant was that of then-Primate-elect Linda Nicholls. In a statement to the Diocese of Huron, Nicholls authorized marriage to same-sex couples as a pastoral local option starting Aug. 1 in her capacity as diocesan bishop, under certain guidelines. These include stipulations that no parish be required to perform same-sex marriages if it does not wish to do so, and that clergy have the provision by canon to refuse to perform a marriage due to reason of conscience. 

“Our church has a wonderful diversity in so many areas of its life,” Nicholls wrote. “That diversity also leads to tensions but I can promise you that the bishops, clergy and laity of our church are committed to living together with love and grace as we continue to learn from one another and seek a path that honors God.” 

The first reading of the marriage canon amendment passed at General Synod in 2016 — but only just. The misclassification of a single vote initially led to the body to believe the resolution had failed when, in fact, it had passed.

This story was originally published by the Anglican Journal.

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Chaplaincy innovations at Canadian university bring students together

Episcopal News Service - Mon, 09/09/2019 - 3:41pm

On Tuesdays, about 150 University of Victoria students gather for the Pet Cafe and Laughter Meditation. Photo: University of Victoria via Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal] The University of Victoria’s interfaith chapel has been called the “happiest place on campus,” Anglican chaplain Ruth Dantzer says.

That’s because every Tuesday, close to 150 students gather to snack on treats, pet cuddly animals and laugh together during the weekly Pet Café and Laughter Meditation.

“It’s been the most popular program, attracting more students than any other program in the history of the interfaith chapel,” says Dantzer. Once a year, in the spring, when Dantzer brings baby goats to campus, almost 1,000 students show up. “It’s like this huge campus event…. It’s getting quite a reputation through the city, actually.”

Read the entire article here.

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Racial audit of church leadership seen as step toward ensuring Episcopal culture of welcome

Episcopal News Service - Mon, 09/09/2019 - 12:37pm

The Episcopal Church’s membership is mostly white, but it is taking steps to diversify its leadership to better reflect the communities it serves. A racial diversity survey of church leadership is underway. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church is one of the whitest Christian denominations in America. White Episcopalians make up 90 percent of church membership, according to the Pew Research Center, compared to a U.S. population that is 62 percent white.

Those are sobering numbers for a church committed to dismantling racism and segregation, said the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, the presiding bishop’s canon for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care. “What that shows is, we as a church are grossly out of sync with the communities where God has placed us.”

The Rev. Stephanie Spellers is canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

If the church is out of sync, it isn’t out of hope. Spellers’ staff distributed a survey to members of Executive Council and the House of Bishops last month, a first step toward painting a clearer picture of the racial makeup and culture of The Episcopal Church’s leadership. The pool of respondents will broaden in the coming months to include churchwide staff members, the House of Deputies and a sampling of leaders from three dioceses in each of the church’s nine provinces.

Executive Council members’ version of the survey starts by collecting basic demographic info before shifting to subjective questions about church processes, discrimination, racism and whether respondents have felt welcomed, supported and respected in their roles. A preface to the survey states the results will provide insight into “experienced or observed inequities that might be connected to racism.”

The Boston-based Mission Institute, which works in the Episcopal tradition to help churches and communities confront racism, will compile the survey data, along with interviews with selected respondents, for a final report that will be presented to General Convention in 2021. Spellers and other church leaders are counting on this audit to guide The Episcopal Church as it seeks to become more inclusive and bridge racial divides in an increasingly diverse America. And

“We have a history as a segregated church,” Spellers said in interview with Episcopal News Service. “That story has not changed nearly as much as we wish.”

The audit is the latest component of the church’s ongoing work toward racial reconciliation, which General Convention in 2015 identified as one of the church’s top priorities. In 2017, the church launched the Becoming Beloved Community framework as a resource for deepening conversations about the church’s historic complicity with slavery, segregation and racism, and it aimed to enlist all Episcopalians in the work of racial healing.

The labyrinth diagram showing the four parts of the Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community is colored for an Advent mailing.

The framework is broken into four parts that are illustrated as a labyrinth: telling the truth about our churches and race, proclaiming the dream of Beloved Community, practicing the way of love in the pattern of Jesus and repairing the breach in society. A report introducing the framework identified a need for “a census of The Episcopal Church” under “Telling the Truth.”

“If we seek reconciliation, healing, and new life, it begins with telling the truth about The Episcopal Church’s racial composition, especially given the Church’s relationship to the complex history of race in the 17 nations our Church calls home,” the Becoming Beloved Community framework says.

A comprehensive census of the church, however, was too expensive to be feasible, Spellers said. Pursuing a more modest audit based on existing data also proved problematic because neither the Church Pension Group nor congregational parochial reports collect racial data. One of the few recent attempts at quantifying diversity involved manually checking diocesan websites for staff photos and counting the number of people of color.

Despite those limitations, Spellers expects the Mission Institute’s audit will produce a foundation of insight, identify recurring themes and assist with making recommendations for change.

“We have anecdotes, but you cannot engage deep transformation work based on anecdotes,” she said. “Even as we tell our stories, even as we learn to listen to the other, we need to bring more data into the conversation so that we can dream and strategize more concretely about a future as Beloved Community.”

For the churchwide audit, the Mission Institute will draw on its experience helping the Diocese of Massachusetts develop a more inclusive clergy formation process, and its subsequent interviews with bishops and clergy of color last year at General Convention.

Its Diocese of Massachusetts work stemmed from a particular case, in which an African American woman who was on the path to ordination into the priesthood withdrew from the process, saying she did not feel welcomed. The diocese’s Commission on Ministry asked Mission Institute to study the process and make recommendations.

Diocesan leaders “were generally unaware how much things like racial bias, and also issues of class and continuing issues around gender, impact and really shift people’s experience in the ordination process,” the Rev. Edwin Johnson told ENS. He is rector at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, a largely Afro-Caribbean congregation in Dorchester, and serves as chair of the Presiding Officers’ Advisory Group on Beloved Community Implementation.

The Mission Institute interviewed Episcopalians going through the discernment process in the Diocese of Massachusetts and produced a report the that identified six themes that suggested ways the diocese could become more welcoming, such as encouraging people of color to be themselves and understanding how a dominant white culture can blind leaders to the importance of race.

“White people … tend to be unaware that they too are racialized. There is little attention given to helping white people move past this dis-consciousness, and to seeing that the ordination process forms people in and for anti-racist, multicultural ministry,” the Ministry Institute said in one of its highlights.

That work in Massachusetts caught the attention of members of the presiding bishop’s racial reconciliation team, and they invited the Mission Institute to ask similar questions in a churchwide context when General Convention convened in July 2018 in Austin, Texas. There, the Mission Institute spoke with 18 ordained people of color, and their stories, experiences and perspectives were compiled anonymously in a report submitted to the racial reconciliation team last fall.

The report puts the words of its interview subjects front and center and encourages church leaders to learn from the observations and then act in ways that go further than adding more diverse members to committees or updating websites to show more people of color.

“These changes can be important, but they tend to operate at a surface level. They rarely catalyze a deep, institutional shift because they do not engage the larger norms and practices of the institution,” the report said. “It is our searching and honest reflection on core values and norms, and how they are embodied in formal routines and procedures, that strengthens our quest for enduring change.”

The racial audit of church leadership, then, is the church’s next step toward that enduring change, and for change to take hold, the Rev. Katie Ernst, interim director of the Mission Institute, suggested the church will need to approach the audit as a starting point.

“The big question for me is, what’s next? So what?” she said. How the church responds will determine whether it makes progress in dismantling racism.

“I’m excited about keeping that question in our pocket as we’re doing this work,” Ernst said, because the “insidious effects of white supremacy” continue to deny many people a full place in the Beloved Community.

“That is not of God, and that is happening all the time for folks of color,” she said. “And unfortunately, it continues to happen in the church.”

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

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Episcopal leaders discuss religious groups’ role in ending AIDS at Georgetown forum

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 09/06/2019 - 8:12pm

Rebecca Linder Blachly, director of The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, speaks at the “Two Possible Futures: Faith Action to End AIDS” forum at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs in Washington on Sept. 4, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Washington] At a forum on the involvement of faith communities in the fight against HIV/AIDS, two leaders from The Episcopal Church spoke out about the significant obstacles that remain, despite decades of dramatic progress.

Rebecca Linder Blachly, director of The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, and Jesse Milan Jr., president and CEO of AIDS United and a former president of the board of the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition, participated in a forum called “Two Possible Futures: Faith Action to End AIDS” at Georgetown University in Washington on Sept. 5.

The two-part panel discussion, hosted by Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, focused on the role of religious groups at a critical time in the effort to end HIV/AIDS. The global fight against the disease that has killed about 32 million people has made enormous progress since the 1990s, with AIDS-related deaths down more than 50 percent since the peak in 2004, and experts say ending the pandemic is now within reach. However, progress has slowed and infections are increasing in some regions, raising the possibility of a major resurgence in the 2020s.

Religious groups, the panel members said, can make the difference between the two possible futures in the event’s title. By 2030, religious groups could come together and use their moral conviction and deeply engaged networks to end AIDS – or they could fail to do so, and the disease will continue to kill millions of people per year.

In the first panel, titled “Looking Back,” participants discussed how religion helped and hurt the response to AIDS. Milan, who has been living with HIV since the 1980s, said that many churches have historically focused more on ministering to the dead and dying than on prevention.

“The church has stepped up at times when someone was dead, but not when someone was at risk,” Milan said.

Because of churches’ past work with AIDS as a terminal illness, Milan said, many religious leaders are not up to speed on recent innovations that address HIV as a sexual health issue.

Milan identified several HIV-related factors which he believes churches failed to address: the agency of women around their sexual health, human rights issues for LGBTQ+ people and health disparities based solely on race.

Milan also pointed out that, because there are “only so many seats at the table” in policy discussions about HIV, someone selected to represent “the faith community” may not be able to speak for the complex array of religious people. And there’s also the problem of decisions being made without the input of people living with HIV, he said.

In the second half of the discussion, “Looking Ahead,” Blachly spoke about some of the most successful aspects of The Episcopal Church’s work to end AIDS. Partnerships with the World Council of Churches, the Anglican Communion, the United Nations and other groups have been very productive, she said. In the future, Blachly hopes to “overcome resistance to partnerships. We know partnerships work,” she told the panel.

Blachly pointed to a generational gap as one of the new challenges in the continuing fight against the disease.

“Young people don’t remember the AIDS crisis,” she said, a point echoed by Milan and others. And there’s a widespread sense that the problem of HIV has essentially been solved, which means it tends to be a lower priority than problems thought to be more pressing, like climate change and human trafficking.

Another panelist, David Barstow, who wrote a book that imagines two possible trajectories in detail – ending AIDS or letting it come roaring back – said that his vision for the winning future includes a coalition of major religious leaders making a public appeal at the 23rd International AIDS Conference in San Francisco in July 2020.

Who would he like to see there?

“The pope, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Michael Curry,” Barstow said. “The big ones, down the list.”

Panelists were divided on which future they think is more likely, but Blachly was firmly in the optimistic camp, pointing to “historic bipartisan support” in Congress recently.

“We have the tools to do it if we have the political will and support,” she said.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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Priest in Bahamas ask for prayers after Hurricane Dorian devastates islands

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 09/06/2019 - 6:02pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] After Hurricane Dorian left a trail of devastation in the Bahamas, the priest at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Grand Bahama has asked for prayer for all those affected.

Giving an update on a local TV station, the Rev. Kirkland Russel said his community had no electricity, and the water has been turned off. He asked for prayers and support for all those suffering and the families of those who have already been killed.

“We are getting a lot of rain and driving wind, but the main problem we are having right now is the storm surge coming from the north, and a lot of people’s homes are getting flooded out,” he said. “They are trapped on their roofs or scrambling out of their homes trying to find shelter.”

Read the full article here.

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$1.7 million for slavery reparations fund puts Virginia Theological Seminary at forefront of debate

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 09/06/2019 - 5:47pm

A Civil War-era image of Virginia Theological Seminary shows Union soldiers and black civilians, with Virginia Theological Seminary’s Aspinwall Hall in the background. Photo: Virginia Theological Seminary

[Episcopal News Service] Virginia Theological Seminary took what appears to be an unprecedented step this week by announcing that it had set aside $1.7 million for a slavery reparations fund – something considered but not yet enacted by other institutions of higher education that historically benefited from slave labor.

Enslaved African Americans worked on the Alexandria campus of Virginia Theological Seminary, which was founded in 1823, and at least one building, Aspinwall Hall in 1841, was built with slave labor. Black students were excluded from attending the Episcopal seminary until the 1950s.

“As we seek to mark [the] seminary’s milestone of 200 years, we do so conscious that our past is a mixture of sin as well as grace,” VTS Dean Ian Markham said in a press release. “This is the seminary recognizing that along with repentance for past sins, there is also a need for action.”

Income from the endowment fund for reparations will be put to use in a variety of ways, from encouraging more African American clergy in The Episcopal Church to directly serving the needs of any descendants of the enslaved Africans who worked at the seminary.

Aspinwall Hall, now used as an administrative building at Virginia Theological Seminary, was at least partly built with slave labor. Photo: Mathew Brady, via Library of Congress

The seminary’s announcement comes amid a growing national conversation over reparations as one way to atone for the American systems of slavery and segregation, rooted in the Colonial era and still showing lingering effects on society today. While Democratic presidential candidates have been asked for their views on the subject this year, Episcopal Church leaders have taken a lead in speaking in favor of reparations, most recently Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton.

“Everyone living in our great nation has inherited a mess created by the institution of slavery,” Sutton testified in June at a congressional hearing on reparations. “None of us caused this brokenness, but all of us have a moral responsibility to fix it.”

Speaking a month after his diocesan convention approved a racial reconciliation resolution that raised the prospect of reparations, Sutton noted in his testimony that reparations are not simply about monetary compensation, but rather repairing what is broken. “An act of reparation is an attempt to make whole again, to restore, to offer atonement, to make amends, to reconcile for a wrong or injury.”

The issue has been particularly active in the academic world, with numerous colleges and universities founded before the Civil War grappling with their own histories of racial injustice. More than 50 of them, including Sewanee: University of the South in Tennessee, have joined a coalition called Universities Studying Slavery to research that history.

Sewanee has not yet taken up the topic of reparations directly, though its Robertson Project on Slavery, Race and Reconciliation includes among its goals “to consider the obligations that Sewanee’s history places on us in deciding how we can become a more equitable, inclusive, and cohesive university community.”

Students at Georgetown University have pushed a measure that would raise a reparations fund at the Jesuit university in Washington by adding a fee to students’ tuition bills. Georgetown is a prominent case because of its own research into the 272 campus-owned slaves who were sold in 1838 to save the school from closure.

The proposal to raise money for reparations through student fees has been called unprecedented. A headline in The Atlantic from April described the student proposal as “The First Reparations Attempt at an American College,” and a Politico article from the same month carried the headline “This Could Be the First Slavery Reparations Policy in America.”

If that was hypothetically true for Georgetown in April, VTS actually might be the first now.

The seminary’s Office of Multicultural Ministries will administer the fund “as part of our commitment to recognizing the racism in our past and working toward healing and reconciliation in the future,” the seminary said in its press release.

It specified five ways the income from the fund might be spent:

  • On needs identified by local congregations with ties to VTS.
  • On the needs of descendants of enslaved people who worked at VTS.
  • To support the work of black alumni, especially at historically black congregations.
  • To raise up African American clergy.
  • Other activities that promote justice and inclusion.

“Though no amount of money could ever truly compensate for slavery, the commitment of these financial resources means that the institution’s attitude of repentance is being supported by actions of repentance that can have a significant impact both on the recipients of the funds, as well as on those at VTS,” the Rev. Joseph Thompson, director of VTS’ Office of Multicultural Ministries, said in the seminary’s release.

Thompson, in an interview with Episcopal News Service, said the seminary expected to be able to spend about $70,000 a year from endowment income. The seminary has engaged in racial reconciliation efforts for a while, he said, but those efforts took a big step forward about 10 years ago when Markham, the dean, issued a public apology for the seminary’s complicity in slavery.

Conversations at VTS about reparations grew in urgency in recent years as the national debate over racial relations intensified.

“With everything that’s been going on in society around us and more attention being paid to the idea of reparations, people began to think about the material consequences of slavery and of racism and wanting to do something to repair that,” Thompson said.

The seminary’s first steps will be to try to identify descendants of slaves who were forced to work at VTS and to reach out to the local community.

For decades, The Episcopal Church, too, has emphasized fighting racism and fostering racial reconciliation while shining a light on the church’s own past involvement with slavery and segregation. A 2000 resolution passed by General Convention called on the church to “overcome its historic silence and complicity … in the sin of racism.”

In 2006, General Convention passed another resolution supporting federal legislation that would confront the country’s legacy of slavery and take a step toward “monetary and non-monetary reparations to the descendants of the victims of slavery.”

The Diocese of Maryland, under Sutton, has been a churchwide leader in identifying its congregations’ ties to slavery, through its Trail of Souls research project and pilgrimages. And in 2016, a reparations resolution at its diocesan convention, though not approved, advanced that conversation in the diocese.

Three years later at Maryland’s 2019 convention, Sutton read a pastoral letter that called on his diocese to again consider what reparations might look like.

“The subject of reparations is mired in emotion,” he said. “It is often mischaracterized and certainly largely misunderstood. It is a complex issue that involves economic, political and sociological dimensions that are difficult to grasp without a willingness to engage more deeply than having a quick emotional response to the word.”

Sutton also cautioned that the church sees this issue from the perspective of faith, not politics. His subsequent congressional testimony, however, and his follow-up interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson sparked a conservative backlash that Sutton acknowledged in a message to his diocese.

Critics sent him “hate-filled messages” that questioned his integrity, sanity and faith, Sutton said. That response was expected, he said, but it shouldn’t deter him, the diocese or the country from facing the truth of its past.

“We came to the decision to affirm the principle of moving forward with some form of accounting for how we gained materially and financially from an evil institution,” Sutton said. “If our diverse diocese can come together on this issue in such a respectful way, then let’s not give up on the notion that our nation can do the same.”

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

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Brazilian bishops blame Amazon fires on ‘greed and hatred’

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 09/06/2019 - 3:57pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A group of 15 Brazilian bishops representing the Anglican church in Brazil have called on their government to take action to stop the spread of fires in the Amazon rainforest.

A pastoral letter from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil stated they were facing the worst wave of fires in Brazil for seven years.

“For more than two weeks the Amazon Forest has been on fire, burnt by greed and hatred,” the bishops wrote. “Those fires in the Amazon are not the result of drought, nor the result of natural hazards. Those are actions orchestrated by people representing agribusiness, land grabbers and prospectors encouraged by the president’s irresponsible speeches and statements.”

Read the full article here.

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Westminster Abbey to host seminars in run up to Lambeth Conference

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 09/06/2019 - 3:56pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] International Anglican speakers will gather in Westminster Abbey in London over the coming months to help lead a series of seminars discussing key issues for the Anglican Communion in the run up to the Lambeth Conference next year.

In partnership with the Anglican Communion Office, the Abbey is hosting a series of day events between November 2019 and April 2020. The international panels will examine a range of themes from the fundamentals of Anglicanism to conflict and reconciliation.

Read the full article here.

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Director of unity, faith and order appointed for Anglican Communion

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 09/06/2019 - 1:58am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The ecumenical adviser to the archbishop of Canterbury, William Adam, is to be the new director of unity, faith and order for the Anglican Communion. His new role, which is effective immediately, will be held alongside his role at Lambeth Palace, which he has held since 2017.

He succeeds the Rev. John Gibaut, who was appointed to the post in 2014 and held it until earlier this year, when he became president, provost and vice-chancellor of Canada’s Thorneloe University.

Read the full article here.

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Diocese of Los Angeles heralds rebirth of closed church as new ‘exploratory community’

Episcopal News Service - Thu, 09/05/2019 - 12:53pm

Volunteers pitch in to clear the dying lawn at St. Barnabas’ Church in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, preparing to plant a garden with herbs, vegetables and flowers. Photo: Jubilee Consortium

[Diocese of Los Angeles] Call it revival or resurrection, the Diocese of Los Angeles’ St. Barnabas Episcopal Church — which closed to official worship a year ago — is back as “St. Be” and is inviting the entire diocesan community to a Sept. 28 party to celebrate the launch of a reimagined, exploratory community in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock neighborhood.

For the Rev. Jaime Edwards-Acton, jump-starting the new ministry was part of being a good neighbor.

“I’ve lived in Eagle Rock for 20 years and I wanted to explore something new, to re-energize the community, just because it’s my neighborhood, and because I’d love to have a vibrant community here,” said Edwards-Acton, who is rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Hollywood and executive director of the Jubilee Consortium.

His work with the consortium, a collaborative of Episcopal churches formed in 2001 to provide leadership and enrichment programs to local communities, helped fuel the revitalization.

It also sparked the imaginations and captured the hearts of folks like Junmey Wang, 25, a 2018 Jubilee Intern who asked to be involved when she heard about the St. Be’s initiative.

“Just the vision that we had for St. Barnabas was really attractive to me,” Wang told the diocese’s Episcopal News recently. “The idea of remaking a space for the Eagle Rock community, the idea of it being a diocesan-wide effort instead of just a St. Stephen’s effort — I wanted to help build something creative like that. A place to explore our faith and to journey together was something very beautiful and an effort in which I wanted to be involved.”

For Wang, St. Be’s represents personal transformation: “This is the first time I’ve been in a church community where the voices of young people are valued,” she said. “And not just valued, but we have the opportunity to impact the long-term vision of the church.

“The community that I know of in St. Be has been welcoming to me, in allowing me to exist in a gray space, where I am able to ask questions and to be creative. I am glad to have found a community that is seeking to create meaning but is also open to the mysteries of life, to not knowing together.”

It has involved a great deal of challenging work.

Rodell Jefferson, a former Jubilee Intern, is one of the leaders of the new community being built at the Eagle Rock church. Photo: Jubilee Consortium

Wang and Rodell Jefferson, 22, also a former Jubilee intern, are the church’s organizers — responsibilities that involve fluid job descriptions, patience, flexibility and a willingness to take on just about any task.

Like pulling out all the dead grass at the front of the 104-year-old church, tilling and composting to prepare for a big planting Sept. 28. At the evening launch party, guests will be invited to plant the first herb, vegetable and flower seeds for a Seeds of Hope garden.

“It’s a lot of logistical work,” according to Jefferson, whose responsibilities have ranged from securing parking lots and utilities to crafting online Facebook and Instagram communities.

The logistics include getting to know the community in Eagle Rock, just north of downtown Los Angeles. That is a core of the ongoing work, according to Payton Høegh, a communications specialist for Seeds of Hope and the Jubilee Consortium.

“Jaime is passionate about not coming into the Eagle Rock community or St. Barnabas with a clear vision of what he wants it to be,” he said. “He wants this to be a process more about listening to what people need and want from an Episcopal presence in Eagle Rock.

“It’s an exciting adventure to see how community is being built from the ground up; it’s reinvigorating,” he added. “We’ve gone over demographics to the Mission InSite information that gets into what Eagle Rock is looking for in a church community.”

Getting to know the community has meant, for Jefferson, pounding the pavement. “I’ve been doing a lot to try and create community physically, going to different businesses and neighbors, saying hello to people walking by.

“Everywhere I turn, [I’m] trying to interact and let them know what we are doing in Eagle Rock,” he said. “I am most excited about what Eagle Rock needs and trying to fill that and be that for the community.”

A marketing major, Jefferson said he turned down the possibility of another internship to join the St. Be’s team. “I did not grow up explicitly religious, although I had a grandmother who went to church every Sunday,” he told Episcopal News. “I weaseled my way out of it, played video games, watched TV. Religion and church were always around, but I was never immersed in them.

“Then I went off to school and very much went through my atheist ‘I hate religion, it’s ruining the world’” phase, he said, before a search for personal meaning replaced academic interests. With the Jubilee year, he realized, “I am in it now. I want to start a life of service, and my biggest question is, how can I love people for a living? It’s crazy, how I’ve gone from atheist to church administrator so quickly.”

Talia Guppy, 40, is a St. Stephen’s parishioner who has been attending Thursday evening gatherings at St Be’s for the past few months. The evenings consist of food, music and Bible study. Guppy, a L.A. Unified School District psychiatric social worker, says, “I am so invested in my heart and my soul in the mission of St Stephen’s that I would love for the Eagle Rock community to be able to have that same sense of being connected spiritually, with social justice and advocacy and all of it being part of our spiritual walk with God.”

Guppy, who helped deep-clean the St. Be campus, laughingly said it was “like moving into a fixer-upper house where people hadn’t taken all of their stuff. It took four or five of us about three weeks to get it all cleaned up and cleared out. It has been a great experience.”

She added: “I have never been a part of something like this, that’s starting from the foundations. The foundation is there and we are filling it. It feels really neat to be part of it and bring it and be part of this new life. I look forward to it every week.”

Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor shares that enthusiasm.

“Eagle Rock is one of the most dynamic, diverse communities in our diocese – a perfect setting for The Episcopal Church, which at its best combines liturgical and musical richness and multicultural and -generational competence with opportunities to serve our neighbors and the whole creation,” he said. “Canon Edwards-Acton is deeply devoted to his neighborhood and his church. He and his fellow saints in action are fully equipped by the Holy Spirit to organize and pilot this vital relaunch.”

Rabbi Susan Goldberg’s Nefesh Los Angeles, an independent spiritual community focused on Jewish values of kindness, compassion, love and justice, recently joined the St. Be’s campus as a tenant.

She said the partnership grew out of a prior relationship with Edwards-Acton. “Jaime and I have participated in many faith-based social justice actions,” she said. “Doing justice work has enriched our lives both personally but also has helped to enrich our community.”

Nefesh members have participated in the campus cleanups, and Goldberg plans to attend the Sept. 28 launch party.

“We want to be a part of the energy that’s happening at St. Be’s,” she said. “It is really inspiring, just seeing how they’re doing something as simple as transforming a lawn into a garden holds such possibility for the space, and for Nefesh and for those who live in the neighborhood.

“I’m excited for the community, and for all that’s going to start unfolding at St Be’s.”

A new tree at St. Be’s gets a thorough watering from a volunteer. Photo: Jubilee Consortium

Bilingual Spanish and English services are planned, with regular worship at 4 p.m. on Sundays, beginning Sept. 29, according to Edwards-Acton. Painting and other campus improvements are underway. He has hired maintenance staff, a music director and worship band, and he plans to launch a preschool.

“This has re-energized me, too, which has been awesome,” Edwards-Acton said. Although there is no congregation yet, and no income, the goal is to work toward building community.

“Our income consists of what we bring in from rental agreements, and we hope to generate income through church hall rentals and fundraisers. Right now, St. Stephen’s is helping financially. We’re willing to make the investment.”

He hopes the diocesan community—laity and clergy—will help support the efforts financially, and through prayers and their presence.

“I am hoping that folks will considering pledging one Sunday a month or a quarter to come and be the presence of Christ to those in St. Barnabas,” he said.

– The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a Los Angeles-based correspondent.

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Monthly gun violence requiem unites congregations in prayer for victims

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 09/04/2019 - 4:52pm

The list of victims’ names on the altar at Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox, Massachusetts. Photo: Michael Tuck

[Diocese of Western Massachusetts] Gun violence, mass shootings and gun control are back in the news in the aftermath of the shootings in El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy. But for two parishes in the Berkshires, the response to gun violence has taken a slightly different turn. Since January, a group of parishioners from Trinity Church and St. Helena’s Chapel has been meeting on the first Saturday of every month to pray for each of the victims of gun violence as part of a monthly requiem Eucharist. Instead of responding only to the horrific moments of mass shooting, they are focusing more broadly on the epidemic of gun violence in America.

“This started as a personal ministry for me,” says the Rev. Michael Tuck, the rector of the churches in Lenox, Massachusetts. “One of my parishioners had a relative who was killed in a home invasion. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I had never really internalized how this violence causes so many ripples. Every death affects so many people.”

At the center of the Eucharist is the list of names. Every month, those who died in the previous month are remembered by name. For Tuck, this service is rooted in his own spiritual history. “I come out of the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and I was always moved by the ministry of the Guild of All Souls. There is something incredibly powerful about saying that, no matter what, we pray for the dead. And not just as a group. There’s something powerful about praying for people by name.”

Each month, the list of names takes about 40 minutes to read, and the members of the congregation take turns. Ruth Arisman, one of the regular parishioners, highlights the impact of this part of the service. “Every month, I just worry that I will see a name I recognize,” she says.

Reading the names is sometimes a challenge. “Many of the names are unfamiliar to most of us, with different spellings and coming from different cultural backgrounds. Sometimes we stumble a little,” Tuck notes. George Bergen, another regular parishioner, also expressed this challenge: “In our difficulty to read the names, we become aware of the remarkable diversity of the communities in our country.”

Compiling the list of names isn’t as simple as it sounds. Right now, there is no easily accessible list of the names of all victims of gun violence in the United States. Individual news organizations may compile local or regional lists, but there is no national list. The Gun Violence Archive tracks a list of all incidents, but doesn’t include a list of names. In order to compile the list, Tuck checks each incident in the archive and copies each name. The list, as long as it is, is woefully incomplete. Some large jurisdictions and cities, such as Philadelphia and Houston, do not regularly publish names. Some towns and cities will publish suspects’ names, but not victims’. Even with these limitations, the list includes about 1,000 names each month.

The list includes perpetrators as well as victims. “We are making no statements about the moral status or condition of anyone who has died,” Tuck explains. “This list includes people who died during the commission of a crime. It includes victims of domestic violence. There are people who killed others during a home invasion, and it includes people who were killed by a person defending their home. It includes children who were killed accidentally, people killed by police officers during the course of their duty, and officers who were killed on the job. This list includes people who took another’s life in anger, and it includes people who took their own lives. The purpose of this service is to remember that every one of these names is a person, a beloved child of God.”

Looking at each incident in the Gun Violence Archive has brought out the complexity of gun violence in America. “I was surprised at how many police officers are injured and killed in the line of duty. It makes the arguments from law enforcement about gun safety make a lot more sense to me,” says Tuck. Incidents of domestic violence can also be inferred from the list. “It’s hard to read when you see a last name repeated. It really brings domestic violence out into the open,” says Bergen. “And sometimes it’s three or four of the same name,” adds Richard Burke, senior warden at Trinity.

The next requiem Eucharist for victims of gun violence will be at Trinity Church’s chapel at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7. The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher will be the celebrant. Resources – including the service sheet – may be found through the rector’s personal blog. If you would like more information or additional resources, please contact Tuck at fr.michael.tuck@gmail.com.

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RIP: Richard Parkins, former EMM director who championed outreach to Sudan, dies at 83

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 09/04/2019 - 4:07pm

[Episcopal News Service] Richard Parkins, a former Episcopal Migration Ministries director who became a leading advocate for Episcopal outreach to Sudan and South Sudan as head of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, has died. He was 83.

Parkins died Sept. 1 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., after suffering from cancer and related problems, according to Russell Randle, a member of The Episcopal Church’s Task Force on Dialogue with South Sudanese Anglican Diaspora. Randle, in a message to the task force, said Parkins died in his sleep, possibly from atrial fibrillation.

Richard Parkins, executive director of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, served 14 years as director of Episcopal Migration Ministries.

“Richard was all that is best about our church,” Randle said. “He was articulate, joyful, persistent and wise, a gracious colleague, a steadfast friend and an example to me and many others of what it means to grow into the full stature of Christ.”

Parkins also was remembered fondly by Episcopal Church Center staff who worked with him during his 14 years leading Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM.

“The number of lives that have been enriched because of the life and ministry of Richard Parkins is too great to be counted,” the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church, said in a statement to Episcopal News Service. “As director of Episcopal Migration Ministries for many years, and more recently with the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Richard made a remarkable difference and leaves behind a rich legacy. He will be greatly missed.”

Parkins’ work serving refugees dates back decades, beginning with his time at the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. He became director of that agency in 1980, and other experience included various work with nonprofit resettlement agencies, such as Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Service and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to an online bio.

EMM is one of the agencies with contracts to provide resettlement services to refugees on behalf of the U.S. State Department. In 1995, Parkins became director of EMM and remained in that role until 2009. Parkins also served from 2006 to 2008 as chair of the Refugee Council USA, the coalition of refugee assistance and refugee rights organizations.

The problem of people displaced from their homes by war and persecution is a “global humanitarian crisis of almost unimaginable dimensions,” Parkins said in an Episcopal Church video released in June 2007 highlighting World Refugee Day. “I think it’s also a day when you reflect on the courage and the achievements of refugees, because that’s the other side of the story that has to be told.”

Parkins had long worked to strengthen ties between The Episcopal Church and Anglicans in Sudan. As EMM director, he was part of a 1998 church visit to Sudan that included extensive travel in the Diocese of Bor and interaction with Sudanese refugees in a camp in northern Kenya, according to the bio on the website of American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, or AFRECS. That year he also served as an Episcopal Church representative at a roundtable convened by Sudan Council of Churches.

And in 2008, Parkins joined an Episcopal-Lutheran delegation that attended the enthronement of Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul as head of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, now known as the Episcopal Church of South Sudan.

AFRECS was founded in 2005 as a network of Episcopal dioceses and Episcopalians interested in supporting Anglicans in Sudan and now South Sudan. After leaving his position at EMM in 2009, Parkins joined AFRECS as executive director.

“We realized what a wonderful asset he would be,” the Rev. Richard Jones, a founding AFRECS board member, told ENS in an interview. Parkins brought a knowledge of the Sudanese crisis and deep connections within The Episcopal Church to AFRECS, Jones said, but Parkins also endeared himself to those around him with his personality. “Always courteous, always respectful of people’s positions and dignity and opinion. He had a good mind for asking big questions.”

Sudan split into two countries after a 2011 referendum, forming the new nation of South Sudan. In a 2012 article, Parkins warned that Christians to the north in Sudan feared persecution from those who believed in a strict form of Islam. Famine in South Sudan was an ever-present threat.

“Even when results are slow in coming or may seem to produce modest results, advocacy must be viewed as a means of extending ourselves as faithful Christians to those who need to know that they are not alone and not abandoned in their quest for justice and peace,” Parkins wrote. “Advocacy is a way of expressing solidarity and accompaniment with those who desperately need it.”

South Sudan devolved into a brutal civil conflict in 2013. Today, an estimated 4.3 million people have been displaced from their homes in South Sudan amid violence and deteriorating living conditions, according to the United Nations. Seven million people in South Sudan face acute food shortages and “conditions that are equivalent to a famine.”

#BREAKING : As hunger peaks in #SouthSudan, record number of people facing critical lack of food

Diocese of Georgia announces five-person slate of candidates for bishop

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 09/04/2019 - 1:46pm

[Diocese of Georgia] The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia is pleased to announce a slate of candidates who will stand for election as the 11th bishop of Georgia at the 198th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia on Nov. 14-16.

The Bishop Search Committee, after careful and prayerful discernment, recommended these candidates to the Standing Committee, who have formally approved the slate. The candidates, in alphabetical order by last name, are:

  • The Rev. Rob Brown, rector, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina.
  • The Rev. Lonnie Lacy, rector, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia.
  • The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, canon to the ordinary, Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, Savannah
  • The Ven. Jennifer McKenzie, Archdeacon of Wigan and West Lancashire, Diocese of Liverpool, Church of England
  • The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey, canon for mission development and congregational vitality, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

“We are excited to put forward a slate of candidates whom we believe possess a firm spiritual foundation along with a variety of gifts and abilities to be considered for the 11th bishop of Georgia,” said the Rev. Al Crumpton, president of the Standing Committee.

The Standing Committee also announced the opening of the petition process on Sept. 1, by which nominees may be added to the slate. The petition process closes at 5 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

Members of the Diocese of Georgia will have the opportunity to meet the candidates in person at a walkabout to five locations across the diocese from Oct. 22-25 before the November election at Diocesan Convention.

Information about the walkabout throughout the Diocese of Georgia, the candidates — including CVs, brief bios, answers to a series of questions posed to them by the Search Committee, and an introductory video produced by each candidate — can be found on the search website.

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R.I.P.: Rev. Alison Cheek, first female Episcopal priest to celebrate Eucharist, dies at 92

Episcopal News Service - Tue, 09/03/2019 - 5:41pm

The Rev. Alison Cheek celebrates the Eucharist with the Rev. William A. Wendt, rector of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, in November 1974 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Harry Naltehayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Alison Cheek, one of the first female priests in The Episcopal Church and the first to publicly celebrate the Eucharist, died on Sept. 1 at her home in Brevard, North Carolina, according to friends. She was 92.

Cheek was one of the Philadelphia Eleven, the first women to be ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church. She and 10 other women were ordained at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974, two years before the ordination of women was officially authorized by General Convention. The highly controversial ordinations were later affirmed as valid.

“I sort of risked everything to do it,” she recalled on the 40th anniversary of her ordination. “I would do it again.”

Cheek was no stranger to bold moves. Born near Adelaide, Australia, in 1927, she was raised Methodist and graduated from the University of Adelaide, according to one of her former parishes. In 1957, she and her husband, Bruce, moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where she became a lay minister at several Episcopal churches while raising four children. In 1963, she became one of the first two women admitted to the Master of Divinity program at Virginia Theological Seminary, from which she graduated in 1969. With encouragement from her rector, she pursued ordination to the diaconate and became the first female deacon in the South in 1972.

During a retreat, she experienced a powerful spiritual calling to do something that had never been done before. She heard the voice of God telling her, “I want you to be my priest,” she later told the Chicago Tribune.

“It was a powerful experience. It’s why I never thought of giving up,” Cheek said.

The Rev. Alison Cheek, a newly ordained priest, is carried by the Rev. William A. Wendt and the Rev. Lauren Mead at the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation on Aug. 5, 1974 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images

And she didn’t, even though she expected she would be deposed – permanently excluded from any ordained ministry – after the Philadelphia ceremony.

“When the opportunity to go to the Philadelphia ordination came, I thought, well, if they toss me out, at least I’ll go witnessing to what I believe about the Gospel and about women’s appropriateness for being priests, and being true to what I believed,” she said in 2014.

Amid the heated controversy that followed the Philadelphia Eleven ordinations, Cheek was invited to celebrate the Eucharist – something no woman had ever done in any Episcopal church – at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church in Washington. But, according to the Chicago Tribune, after she preached, the local priest read a letter from the bishop saying that she was prohibited from celebrating the Eucharist, because the status of her ordination was still in question.

“It was a very dramatic service,” she told the Tribune. “You could have heard a pin drop.”

Having been blocked at that service, Cheek returned later that year, and on Nov. 10, 1974, she made history yet again, becoming the first female Episcopal priest to publicly celebrate the Eucharist in “a service that ranged from solemn prayer to joyous hugs and bursts of spontaneous applause,” as The Washington Post described it.

The Rev. Alison Cheek is featured (top left) on the Jan. 5, 1976 cover of Time.

Cheek was one of 12 American women selected as Time magazine’s 1975 People of the Year, and she was featured on the cover in clerical dress.

During the 1970s, Cheek also studied at the Washington Institute of Pastoral Psychotherapy and started her own counseling practice. After her husband’s death in 1977, she closed her practice and became co-director of a Venture in Mission fundraising program in Philadelphia. Later, she completed a Doctor of Ministry degree at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and joined the faculty as director of feminist liberation studies.

In 1996, Cheek joined the Greenfire Community and Retreat Center in Tenants Harbor, Maine, as a board member and teacher until its closure, and she served at nearby St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. She retired in 2013 to North Carolina, where she lived among friends.

“Her abiding sense of joy, her obvious intelligence, and deep passion for the Gospel of Jesus, combined with a delightful touch of mischief in her eye made her an irresistible and unforgettable presence,” recalled a friend, Elizabeth Kaeton, on Facebook. “She was a wonderful teacher and role model for the women for whom she helped make possible the actualization of their priestly vocation in The Episcopal Church. When her story is told, it will be said that we once walked among giants.”

Other members of the Philadelphia Eleven, who remained close with Cheek until her death, shared their remembrances on Facebook as well:

According to the Rev. Alla Bozarth, she is survived by six “sisters” in the Philadelphia Eleven, as well as her four children.

A memorial service is scheduled for Nov. 2 at 11 a.m. at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Brevard, North Carolina.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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Hurricane Dorian threatens coast from Florida to Carolinas as Episcopalians evacuate, offer help

Episcopal News Service - Tue, 09/03/2019 - 4:57pm

Christ Church on St. Simons Island in Georgia is seen boarded up in preparation for the approach of Hurricane Dorian. Photo: Christ Church, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal congregations from Florida to the Carolinas braced for the impact of Hurricane Dorian, as evacuation orders took effect in parts of the region and rain from the storm began pelting coastal communities.

The hurricane, which strengthened over the weekend to a powerful Category 5 storm as it devastated the Bahamas, continued to move north in the Atlantic as a weakened but broader Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph as of the afternoon of Sept. 3. It may never make landfall in the mainland United States before heading back out to sea, but the rain and storm surge could punish a large swath of the Southeast.

On St. Simons Island in Georgia, church leaders and parishioners at Christ Church Frederica spent their long Labor Day weekend boarding up the church and securing the altar inside as Dorian approached. The Rev. Tom Purdy, the rector, and vestry member Rip Graham took their turns climbing ladders with drills in hand to put up plywood.

On some of the sheets of plywood covering the church’s windows, they scrawled Bible passages. “Be strong and courageous,” from Joshua. “He stilled the storm to a whisper and quieted the waves of the sea,” from Psalm 107. “I would hasten to escape from the stormy wind and tempest,” from Psalm 55.

A mandatory evacuation is in effect for the region of Georgia east of Interstate 95, affecting more than 200,000 residents, according to an NBC News report. More than 800,000 residents are affected by an evacuation order issued for South Carolina’s coastal counties.

The Diocese of East Carolina, which covers a third of North Carolina along the coast, is sharing information on its Hurricane Hub, which was created last year as an emergency resource during Hurricanes Florence and Michael. The Diocese of Upper South Carolina is maintaining its own webpage filled with links and information to help residents prepare for the coming hurricane.

The dioceses in the path of Dorian’s powerful wind and rain have been in contact with Episcopal Relief & Development for guidance in helping their communities respond to the storm and its aftermath. The agency also has reached out to its partners in the Bahamas to assist.

“I am encouraged to see how dioceses in the U.S. and Caribbean have prepared and mobilized ahead of Hurricane Dorian,” Katie Mears, senior director for Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program, said in a press release. “While the impact of the storm is not yet known, they are ready to provide support however needed.”

Part of that readiness comes from many years of responding to hurricanes. Storm activity has been particularly intense in recent years, with powerful hurricanes hitting all along the coast and in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico and Texas.

In the Diocese of Georgia, inland congregations are stepping up to assist as well, welcoming coastal residents who needed to evacuate their homes.

“This includes St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Tifton, Georgia, that is hosting about 40 health-care workers who evacuated with their elderly patients from a nursing home in a low-lying coastal area,” the Rev. Frank Logue, the diocese’s canon to the ordinary, told Episcopal News Service in an email. “The patients are being housed in a Tifton care facility, and the nursing home employees are staying at the church.”

Southeast Florida Bishop Peter Easton issued a statement over the weekend that noted how the storm’s predicted track had moved away from the Florida coast but would still bring the threat of dangerous flooding to parts of the diocese.

“It continues to be important to take all necessary precautions, to ensure the safety of people and to follow all official advisories and orders,” Eaton said in his Aug. 31 message.

On Sept. 3, Eaton emailed the diocese again with a “Hurricane Appeal,” asking Episcopalians to turn their attention to supporting the people of the Bahamas. He set a goal of raising $50,000 to give to the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Bahamas for relief efforts. Winds there reached 180 mph, and at least five people are reported dead and thousands of homes destroyed.

“Our immediate action will allow [the bishop to] direct critical help to individuals and families in the Abacos and Grand Bahama,” Eaton said. “The bishop and his colleagues can reach people at this point in ways that no one or no other agency can, and our response will enable him to reach out with practical and life-saving help.”

Others interested in contributing to Episcopal Relief & Development’s hurricane relief fund can do so online here.

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

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Diocese’s reversal on same-sex marriage paved way for Pete Buttigieg’s wedding at South Bend cathedral

Episcopal News Service - Tue, 09/03/2019 - 11:12am

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, left, kisses Chasten Glezman following their wedding on June 16, 2018, outside the Cathedral of St. James. Photo: Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP

[Episcopal News Service] Before Pete Buttigieg was a leading Democratic presidential candidate, he was a groom sitting nervously next to his soon-to-be husband in the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, Indiana.

On that hot June afternoon in 2018, Buttigieg and Chasten Glezman became the third gay couple to marry in the Episcopal cathedral, ceremonies that were possible only after Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks in his first year lifted a diocesan prohibition on same-sex marriage rites. As mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg also was one of the most prominent grooms to be married at the cathedral, but the conventions of the altar can humble any man. The 37-year-old mayor describes in his memoir how he “fought to get the words of the vow out before my emotions could stop me.”

The Very Rev. Brian Grantz, dean of St. James, also remembers feeling a powerful emotion that day as he prepared to preside at the wedding: “Terror,” Grantz told Episcopal News Service, with a laugh and only a hint of exaggeration.

The security precautions were unprecedented for a St. James wedding, Grantz said, both because the mayor was atop the program and because same-sex marriage remained divisive in Indiana, a solidly red state in the politically purple Midwest. The couple’s guest list was strictly enforced at the cathedral doors. Reporters weren’t allowed inside, though they and the rest of the world were invited to watch the ceremony live on the cathedral’s YouTube channel.

That high-profile sacramental moment occurred as The Episcopal Church was turning a corner in welcoming LGBTQ Episcopalians after decades of debate over sexuality, though progress marched at an uneven pace. While Buttigieg has spoken openly about his faith, sexuality and marriage on the campaign trail, his diocese, until recently, was one of the most restrictive in The Episcopal Church.

Under Bishop Edward Little, same-sex marriage rites weren’t allowed within the diocese’s geographic boundaries, though Northern Indiana clergy were permitted to preside at same-sex weddings in other dioceses. Sparks adopted a more permissive policy in December 2016, after succeeding Little earlier that year. Since then, St. James is one of about a dozne congregations in the Diocese of Northern Indiana that have chosen to offer the same-sex rites or are on that path. And in July 2018, a month after Buttigieg’s wedding, The Episcopal Church’s General Convention passed a resolution aimed at ensuring marriage equality churchwide.

Grantz would be the last to cast himself as an “apologist for same-sex marriage” – others are much more articulate in that role, he said. A wedding preacher’s audience isn’t just the couple being married but also the community that will welcome them as a married couple, Grantz said, and knowing that Buttigieg’s wedding would draw attention far beyond South Bend, he told ENS he also felt compelled in his sermon to affirm to the outside world that this union is blessed in the eyes of God.

Chasten Glezman and Pete Buttigieg pose for a wedding day photo with Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks, left, and the Very Rev. Brian Krantz, right, dean of the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, Indiana. Photo: Diocese of Northern Indiana

“Love lives in the space between us,” Grantz said in his 15-minute sermon, which briefly referenced Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the 2015 Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Excerpts from that court decision also were among the readings Buttigieg and Glezman chose for their wedding.

“Today we hold up their life together as an icon, a window through which we can peer into the realm of God’s hope and will and intention,” Grantz said, “not only for Pete and Chasten, but for all of us and for the whole world. You are beloved of God and you were made for one another.”

The video of the ceremony has been viewed more than 20,000 times, but not all of the attention focused on the cathedral has been positive. After the wedding, Grantz began fielding voicemail messages, emails and letters attacking the church for its stance on gay marriage. The criticisms continued this year and tend to rise as Buttigieg makes national news, such as when he announced in January that he was exploring a possible presidential run. Buttigieg still finds time to make it to the cathedral’s services every few weeks, sometimes with his mother.

“People associate Pete with St. James,” Grantz said. That doesn’t surprise him, given Buttigieg’s ability to speak forcefully about his faith and how it underpins his call to public service. “It absolutely makes sense, just kind of in terms of who Pete is and the way he approaches life.”

And though the church’s same-sex marriage rites are relatively new, its core beliefs haven’t changed, Grantz said. “This is who we’ve been for a long time.”

He expressed “a weariness” at needing to make that point over and over to those who attack the church.

As for Episcopalians in Northern Indiana, Grantz said they hold a mix of conservative and progressive views on a range of issues but generally have grown to “coexist around a vision of Jesus and a hope that is beyond any one of our experiences of faith.”

Pete Buttigieg greets diners at Revolution Taproom and Grill during a campaign stop in Rochester, New Hampshire in July 2019. Buttigieg’s openness about his faith has contributed to his rise to the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates. Photo: Reuters

‘We were welcome’

South Bend, the seat of the diocese, is a Rust Belt city of about 100,000 residents near the Michigan state line. Home to the University of Notre Dame, it has been a city in decline since Studebaker shut down its car-manufacturing operations in South Bend in 1963, and economic rebirth has been a top political challenge for Buttigieg since he was elected mayor in 2011 at age 29.

The young mayor and formal naval officer has always called South Bend home. He has called The Episcopal Church his spiritual home for just the past decade.

Buttigieg was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church as a boy and attended a Catholic high school, but “by the time I was an adult I didn’t view myself as Catholic,” he said in an interview with CNN. His father was Catholic, but his mother “identified more with the Anglican faith.” He began attending Anglican services in England while studying as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, and upon returning to South Bend about 10 years ago, he started attending services at St. James.

“It was a mix of faith but also of community that really made it the right place to be. And, of course, the fact that we were welcome,” he said.

The diocese’s spirit of welcome has evolved markedly but gradually during Buttigieg’s lifetime. Grantz has witnessed much of that evolution firsthand since 1988, when he began serving as youth ministries coordinator under Bishop Francis Gray. At that time, women were not allowed to serve as priests in Northern Indiana despite General Convention’s approval of the ordination of women back in 1976.

Gray’s views generally reflected the more conservative side of the diocese, Grantz said, though in 1990 the bishop shifted course and began ordaining women to the priesthood.

Bishop Edward Little led the Diocese of Northern Indiana from 2000 to 2016.

Diocesan leadership remained conservative when Little was consecrated as bishop in 2000, and in 2003, when General Convention faced the threat of a split in the church over whether to ordain the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Little spoke in opposition in the House of Bishops.

“If we confirm Gene Robinson as a bishop of the church, the unity of this house will be shattered forever,” Little said. Despite the objections of Little and other conservatives, a majority of bishops consented and Robinson was approved as bishop of New Hampshire.

Little also blocked diocesan clergy from blessing same-sex unions based on a liturgy endorsed by General Convention in 2012, though he acknowledged then that some in his diocese “yearn” for such a liturgy.

Gay couples won the right to civil marriage in Indiana by court decision in 2014, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court extended marriage equality nationwide.   Mere days after the Supreme Court ruling, General Convention made trial-use marriage rites available for same-sex couples – but only on approval of each diocesan bishop. Little and eight other conservative bishops refused.

Little, in an interview for this story, said he respected Episcopalians who held views different from his own. He saw his willingness to allow clergy to travel outside his diocese to perform the rites as something of a compromise.

A pedestrian walks downtown in South Bend, Indiana, a Rust Belt city that is showing signs of life after decades of economic decline. Photo: Reuters

“Even during my time as bishop of Northern Indiana, the diocese really was quite diverse in terms of where people came down” on such issues, Little said. Whether conservative or progressive, “it was important to see ourselves as linked together in Jesus.”

Grantz spoke highly of Little personally. “He is as genuine as the day is long, and you could always disagree with Ed and that was OK, as long as you were clear about your position,” he said.

Some in the diocese, however, were growing frustrated with Little’s positions.

“LGBTQ Christians in Northern Indiana were making their voices heard more and more, and they really were crying out for an equal place at the table,” Grantz said.

Change in leadership opens a door

Sparks was elected bishop on Feb. 6, 2016.  He previously served as rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Rochester, Minnesota, where his congregation spent more than a year in discernment before deciding to welcome same-sex couples interested in marrying in the church.

“Not every decision is best made by taking an up or down vote. … I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes listening and prayerfully engaging in education and reflection and prayer over a period of time can lead to a consensus that would not have even been imagined possible,” Sparks told ENS.

Grantz, who has served as cathedral dean for the past 11 years, describes Sparks as an “activist,” a bishop who feels comfortable participating in protests and marches but also one who is “very clear scripturally,” careful to ground his advocacy in his faith.

“The diocese was really not used to that,” Grantz said, but Sparks never tried to hide that side of himself as a candidate for bishop. Most of the candidates fell on the more progressive side of social issues, Grantz said. “I think Doug was pretty clear about that. But if you weren’t listening, you didn’t get it.”

Sparks spent his first six months as bishop in discernment on the diocese’s policy toward same-sex marriage before issuing his letter in December 2016 that outlined a “consensus process” for congregations to offer the rites to couples who request them. Before taking that step, the rector, wardens and vestry would solicit input from parishioners. At the same time, Sparks highlighted canonical law that gives individual clergy members the discretion “to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage.”

“I take seriously our baptismal commitment to respect the dignity of every human being which includes honoring the theological diversity among us,” Sparks wrote.

Back while Little was still bishop, Grantz had approached one longtime couple in his congregation, Paul Hochstetler and Randy Colburn, and asked if they were interested in traveling north a few miles so he could marry them in “the next church up the road,” in the Diocese of Western Michigan, based on Little’s compromise policy. They declined.

“We had always though it would be nice to get married in what had become our home parish, so we didn’t really want to go someplace else to do that,” Hochstetler, 74, said in an interview with ENS.

After Sparks opened the door, Hochstetler and Colburn reached out to Grantz to ask about the possibility. It was a simple service, but Hochstetler and Colburn still felt part of “something special and momentous” on Dec. 30, 2017, when they became the first gay couple to marry at Cathedral of St. James.

Many people from the congregation attended. “The support, it was very gratifying,” Hochstetler said. “We felt very uplifted.”

Six months later, after Buttigieg’s and Glezman’s wedding, a protester began standing outside the cathedral every Sunday holding anti-gay signs. Grantz describes him as harmless, but the cathedral also has fallen victim to minor vandalism – a flag pulled down, human waste left on the steps – as well as the barrage of hate mail. The messages are scanned for threatening content and then discarded.

Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Glezman, attend a rally on April 14, to announce Buttigieg’s candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Photo: Reuters

Other responses to Buttigieg’s wedding and his defense of it on the campaign trail have been filled with hope.

The Rev. Steven Paulikas, a New York rector who wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times about Buttigieg, told ENS his social media feeds filled with positive reactions to the mayor’s wedding, “an interesting overlap of church friends and LGBT friends.”

“It was a high-profile same-sex wedding in an Episcopal cathedral,” said Paulikas, who married his husband in 2014. “It was nice to see visibility in a place that wasn’t one of the usual suspects of where queer things happen.”

Paulikas, 40, grew up in Michigan and, like Buttigieg, didn’t begin identifying publicly as gay until well after college. In his New York Times piece, Paulikas said he initially “resolved to push my sexuality as deep down from view as I could” to follow his calling to the priesthood. “Yet it was my church that ultimately coaxed me out into the fullness of the person God created me to be.”

“That’s what’s so exciting and lifegiving about what our church is doing right now,” Paulikas told ENS. He was ordained in 2008 and now serves at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. “All this change has actually happened very quickly. Maybe not quickly enough for some people.”

Buttigieg, one of two Episcopalians running for the Democratic nomination, defended his marriage in a speech in April to an LGBTQ political action group. By that time, Buttigieg was drawing increased national attention as much for his faith as for his sexuality. He addressed part of the speech to Vice President Mike Pence, a conservative Christian who opposed same-sex marriage as Indiana’s governor.

“My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God,” Buttigieg said. “If you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

It was a statement that contained echoes of his wedding day. Buttigieg, in his memoir, recalls Grantz’s “moving sermon, assuring us that we were made for one another by God.”

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

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Despite setbacks, The Episcopal Church and Alaska Natives step up fight against drilling in Arctic refuge

Episcopal News Service - Thu, 08/29/2019 - 12:50pm

The Porcupine Caribou Herd in the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain, with the Brooks Range mountains in the distance to the south. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

[Episcopal News Service] For Bernadette Demientieff, rediscovering her identity as a Gwich’in – one of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic – meant reconnecting with the land. Specifically, a mountain called Duchanlee near Arctic Village, Alaska, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a place that holds deep significance to her people.

“When I went there, I don’t know what came over me,” she told the Episcopal News Service. “I just started crying.”

“I lost my identity after high school,” she said. “I kind of went down the wrong path.”

But on that mountain, something changed.

“And right there, I asked Creator for forgiveness, for being disconnected so long, but that I’m here now to share my responsibility as a Gwich’in,” she said.

Bernadette Demientieff speaks on July 10, 2018, at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas. Photo: Sharon Tillman/Episcopal News Service

For Demientieff, that responsibility includes protecting the lands and animals that have sustained her people for thousands of years. Now 43, she is a central figure in the coalition of Gwich’in, Episcopalians and conservationists that has fought to prevent industrial development from disrupting the ecology of the refuge’s most sensitive area. She is the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which calls itself “the unified voice of the Gwich’in Nation speaking out to protect the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” from the oil industry. She is also a member of The Episcopal Church’s Task Force on Care of Creation and Environmental Racism and has spoken to the House of Bishops and the General Convention about the importance of protecting the refuge.

Demientieff plans to be in Washington in September to advocate for an expected House of Representatives floor vote to restore protections for the Coastal Plain, which was opened to drilling by Congress in 2017 despite decades of vocal opposition from the Gwich’in, The Episcopal Church and many other groups from around Alaska and the U.S.

Now, with the prospect of drilling in the refuge closer to reality than ever, Episcopal and Gwich’in leaders say they’re not giving up — especially in the face of the climate crisis, which is already wreaking environmental havoc in Alaska.

“It’s not over,” Demientieff told ENS. “It just started.”

The Sacred Place Where Life Begins

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which occupies the northeast corner of Alaska, is so vast it’s difficult to comprehend. At 19.6 million acres – about the size of South Carolina – it is the largest wildlife refuge in the United States, stretching from the forests of Alaska’s Interior across the Brooks Range to the Coastal Plain tundra, all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

Image: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The refuge has been inhabited by Native peoples for thousands of years. The Iñupiaq live along Alaska’s northern coast, while the Gwich’in have traditionally inhabited an area that includes the interior of the refuge and stretches east into Canada. Besides the Iñupiaq village of Kaktovik on the Arctic coast and the Gwich’in settlement of Arctic Village on the refuge’s southern boundary, there are virtually no traces of human activity in the massive refuge.

Mountain ranges and waterways in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

In fact, the area the Gwich’in have been trying to protect from drilling – the Coastal Plain – is not part of their ancestral homeland. Although the Gwich’in traditionally followed the Porcupine caribou herds during their seasonal migrations around the region, the “one place that the caribou go that we do not is the Coastal Plain,” Demientieff testified during a congressional hearing in March.

But the reason they have avoided the area for so long is the same reason they are trying to protect it now: The Coastal Plain is where the caribou go to give birth and nurse their calves every summer.

Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

“This area is sacred to our people,” Demientieff testified, “so sacred that during the years of food shortage we still honored the calving grounds and never stepped foot on the Coastal Plain.”

The Porcupine Caribou Herd – named after the Porcupine River – is crucial to the culture of the Gwich’in, and to their very existence. Life in the Gwich’in villages revolves around the subsistence economy – hunting caribou, fishing and gathering. All but one of the Gwich’in villages are isolated from the state road system, so whatever food and supplies are flown in from elsewhere tend to be about three times as expensive as they are in a typical Lower 48 supermarket: A gallon of milk at a village store in a place like Fort Yukon or Arctic Village costs at least $10, as does a gallon of gas, and when something like a watermelon makes a rare appearance, it can go for around $40. If the caribou’s breeding or migration patterns were disrupted, there would be few other options for affordable food.

The Porcupine caribou have the longest land migration of any animal in the world, traveling more than 1,500 miles per year from their wintering grounds in the Interior to the Coastal Plain, which the Gwich’in call “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” – “the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

Open for business

That same area, however, has attracted the interest of the fossil fuel industry for decades because it could contain massive oil deposits. The Prudhoe Bay oil field, by far the largest in North America, sits on the coast to the west of the refuge . Its discovery in the 1960s radically altered the economic, demographic and cultural makeup of Alaska. It has also forever changed the landscape; what was once an unspoiled frontier along the Arctic Ocean is now a hub of heavy industry.

Some of the industrial facilities at the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field. Photo: Peter Prokosch/GRID-Arendal

Today, the oil and gas industry provides over one-third of Alaska’s jobs and about 90 percent of the state’s revenue. Because of Alaska’s reliance on the oil and gas industry, the state economy since the 1970s has been a series of dramatic booms and busts. The state once had so much oil revenue flowing in that it literally didn’t know what to do with it, so it set up a fund that continues to pay each citizen a dividend of around $1,000 every year. But oil production at Prudhoe Bay has slowed, and since prices plummeted in 2015, the state has been steadily shedding revenue, residents and jobs. Alaska now has the highest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 6.3 percent in July. On Aug. 27, BP – which has been in Alaska for 60 years and operates the Prudhoe Bay oil field – shocked the state by announcing it will sell all of its Alaska assets, the latest sign of turmoil in the industry. With legislators refusing to implement a state income or sales tax, the state has blown through billions of dollars in savings and has been embroiled in a budget crisis for several years. This summer, a drawn-out political battle has erupted over Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s severe budget cuts, including a proposed 40 percent cut to the University of Alaska system.

The prospect of a large oil field beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain – bringing with it the jobs and revenue that Alaska desperately needs – has made opening it up to development a top priority for the state’s congressional delegation for decades. When the refuge was created, the “1002 area” – 1.5 million acres of the refuge’s Coastal Plain – was set aside for possible development, which required congressional authorization.

Nearly 50 times, Republicans tried and failed to unlock the 1002 area. But in December 2017, a provision to open the area to drilling was tucked into the tax bill signed by President Donald Trump. It appeared that the coalition of the Gwich’in, The Episcopal Church and environmentalists had lost the battle.

‘This is our family’

The Episcopal Church, through its Washington-based Office of Government Relations and the Diocese of Alaska, has been a leader in that fight for decades because of its deep historical connection to the Gwich’in people and its broader commitments to environmental protection and indigenous rights.

The link between the Gwich’in and The Episcopal Church dates back to the 19th century, when Episcopal and Anglican missionaries brought Christianity to the Gwich’in. One of those missionaries, Robert McDonald, created the written form of the Gwich’in language and translated the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

Rowe Chapel, the Episcopal church in Arctic Village, Alaska. Photo: Diocese of Alaska

“In Alaska, where The Episcopal Church began to take root was in Gwich’in country,” said Alaska Bishop Mark Lattime. “And so, as a diocese, we have recognized that this is our family. These are our people. And we have wanted to do what we can to stand and walk with them and support them.”

The coalition of The Episcopal Church, the Gwich’in Steering Committee and the Alaska Wilderness League has been a constant presence at congressional hearings for years, most recently on March 26 at a heated hearing on a bill that would have repealed the refuge-opening provision in the 2017 tax law. Lattime and Demientieff both testified in support.

Gwich’in clergy and Alaska Bishop Mark Lattime (top right) gather for a photo at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Fairbanks in June 2014, after a Eucharist celebrated in a dialect of the Gwich’in language. Photo courtesy of Scott Fisher.

Back in Alaska, Lattime has spoken and prayed at rallies and public forums and participated in a TV ad campaign. He said he tries to be as helpful as he can to the Gwich’in’s cause without speaking for them.

“We’ve been very careful and intentional to listen to their voices and to follow their lead and do what we can to respond as they have asked us to do,” he said.

Although the opening of the refuge was a major blow, the situation is still evolving. With Democrats now controlling the House of Representatives, hearings like the one in March offer new opportunities for advocacy. The Interior Department says lease sales will begin by the end of this year, but the combination of regulatory hurdles and volatility in the price of oil means it could be many years before any drilling happens. It’s also possible that the 1002 area contains much less oil than was originally speculated, making it economically unviable to drill there. For now, the Office of Government Relations continues to advocate for legislation that would at least introduce new restrictions on drilling in the refuge, such as a provision that would require oil lease sales in the Coastal Plain to be priced high enough to produce the revenues anticipated by the 2017 tax bill, which is much higher than what the current market value would be, according to domestic and environmental policy adviser Jack Cobb.

The Episcopal Church’s efforts on environmental protection and climate justice go beyond its Capitol Hill advocacy. At the 2015 General Convention, a resolution directed the church’s Executive Council Investment Committee to divest from fossil fuels “in a fiscally responsible manner.” Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Kurt Barnes estimates the church’s portfolio now has about 2 percent exposure to the fossil fuel industry. However, that resolution did not apply to the much larger Church Pension Fund. In its report to last year’s General Convention, the Church Pension Group said it is not opposed to divestment but can only do it if it doesn’t interfere with its fiduciary responsibilities. CPG does not disclose the amounts of specific securities in its portfolio, but says it is focused on socially responsible investing and shareholder advocacy, said Curt Ritter, CPG senior vice president and head of corporate communications.

Demientieff’s approach going forward is more direct.

“I will stand up even until the first oil rig goes in,” Demientieff said.

An uncertain future

Alaska Natives are not universally opposed to drilling in the refuge, though. Among the Iñupiaq people who live on the Coastal Plain, there is strong support for increased oil and gas development. Unlike the Gwich’in, the Iñupiaq benefit from the industry in the form of local tax revenues, corporate dividends, better village infrastructure and local jobs. Those who support drilling in the Coastal Plain say development there would be safer and leave a much smaller footprint than it has in Prudhoe Bay. At the same hearing where Lattime and Demientieff testified in support of protecting the Coastal Plain, several Iñupiaq witnesses testified against it.

Caribou walk across a gravel pad at Kuparuk, 45 miles from Prudhoe Bay, with oilfield facilities in the background. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

“I’m not trying to take jobs from anybody,” Demientieff told ENS. “I’m not trying to tell anybody what to do. But honestly, that is considered federal land regardless of who lives right beside it. And just because I don’t live close to it does not mean that I will not be impacted by what happens there.”

And by perpetuating the burning of fossil fuels, drilling in the refuge would contribute to the effects of the climate crisis that are being felt more severely in Alaska than almost anywhere else. The state has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the U.S. in the past 60 years, with average winter temperatures rising by six degrees Fahrenheit during that time, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Amid record-high temperatures, the sea ice that once protected coastal villages from erosion has dramatically retreated, causing problems for Native subsistence hunters who need sea ice to hunt seals, whales and walruses. Permafrost beneath villages is thawing rapidly, causing land to sink and often leading to erosion. Entire villages are moving to higher ground. Warm water is causing salmon die-offs, threatening a major source of the state’s food supply and economic base. Wildfires are becoming an increasingly common threat.

A section of coastal bluff, with visible permafrost, collapses at Drew Point on Alaska’s North Slope. Photo: Benjamin Jones/U.S. Geological Survey

“All the elders that I interview and talk to, they’ve never seen anything like this before,” Demientieff said.

The Rev. Trimble Gilbert speaks at a meal in Nenana, Alaska, during the House of Bishops’ visit in 2017. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

One of those elders, the Rev. Trimble Gilbert, has lived in Arctic Village for nearly all his 84 years. An Episcopal priest and traditional chief, Gilbert has a unique perspective on climate change, combining his own experience with stories passed down from his ancestors. He can point to specific examples: polar bears moving into villages in search of food, fish being gone where they used to be plentiful.

“I could see a lot of change [in the] last 30 years,” he told ENS. “It’s gonna be a pretty sad place in the next 50 years, if they’re gonna [drill] … I could see it now. So I hope they can stop and protect the land.”

In the meantime, he finds solace in living off the land, as his ancestors did, and he tries to keep those traditions alive.

“We still try to live our traditional way of life, sharing and taking care of each other almost every day,” he said.

Demientieff says her spirituality and maintaining a traditional way of life also sustains her in the fight.

“I take the time to pray every morning,” she told ENS, adding that she needs it just as much as food or sleep. “When I don’t stay strong in prayer … it’s draining.”

“God gave us this land to take care of,” Demientieff said. We should be taking care of our blessings. We should always take care of what God put in our hands to take care of for him, not to drill it and destroy it.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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