Episcopal News Service

Subscribe to Episcopal News Service feed
The official news service of the Episcopal Church.
Updated: 2 hours 9 min ago

Christians around the world observe Anglican Communion Sunday this weekend

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 2:26pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Christians from all over the world will pray for the Anglican Communion on Sunday, May 26 – the feast day of St. Augustine of Canterbury. The member Churches of the Anglican Communion were first asked to set aside a Sunday for prayer for the Anglican Communion in 2002, when the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in Hong Kong, “to raise awareness of and celebrate the Anglican Communion.”

Read the entire article here.


The post Christians around the world observe Anglican Communion Sunday this weekend appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Archbishop of Canterbury pays tribute as U.K. prime minister announces her resignation

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 2:23pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has expressed his “admiration and gratitude” to the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May after she announced that she will step down in the coming months. May will step down as leader of the ruling Conservative Party on June 7. Conservative MPs and members will then take part in an internal multi—stage electoral process to elect a new party leader, who will become prime minister. May will continue to serve as prime minister until the election process is complete. In his statement, Welby called on people to pray for political leaders “in these critical times in our shared national life.”

Read the entire article here.

The post Archbishop of Canterbury pays tribute as U.K. prime minister announces her resignation appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Vital role for African church leaders in wiping out malaria

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 2:20pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] According to healthcare professionals, the Anglican Church in Africa is a “unique, trusted network” with a vital and strategic role to play in the elimination of malaria across the continent. Bishops representing six provinces of the Anglican Communion took part in an orientation for new bishops run by the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) in Kenya this week (13-21 May), where they were encouraged to play a strategic role in helping tackle malaria.

Read the entire article here.

The post Vital role for African church leaders in wiping out malaria appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Hong Kong’s cathedral celebrates 170 years – part of the birth of the city

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 2:18pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Hong Kong’s St John’s Cathedral is holding a year of celebration to mark its birth 170 years ago in 1849. Its chequered history includes surviving the shelling and subsequent Japanese occupation during the Second World War and going on to celebrate its centenary in 1949 as the People’s Republic of China was born. This was followed by an influx of political refugees from China, who further swelled the city’s population, as it began developing into a major industrial and commercial center.

Read the entire article here.

The post Hong Kong’s cathedral celebrates 170 years – part of the birth of the city appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Episcopalians begin recovery in states ripped by tornadoes, as they watch for more storms

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 12:40pm

Debris from destroyed homes is shown in this aerial photo after a tornado touched down May 22 in Jefferson City, Missouri. Photo: Reuters/Drone Base

[Episcopal News Service] Tornadoes continue to rip up parts of the Midwest this week, and Episcopalians are assessing the damage to their communities as they look for ways to help their neighbors.

For the fourth straight day, destructive storms strafed the middle of the country May 23, the Associated Press reported, with most of the storms concentrated in sparsely populated panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. The National Weather Service received reports of more than a dozen tornadoes, along with numerous reports of large hail and torrential rain, according to the AP.

Tornado season is just beginning, the weather service warned.

Active weather is in no mood to quit anytime soon.

Watch for strong to severe storms this afternoon and evening. If out tonight, avoid any potential flooded roadways. pic.twitter.com/OKvVIlWgxv

— NWS Kansas City (@NWSKansasCity) May 24, 2019

The National Weather Service confirmed that an EF-3 storm hit Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City, on May 22. It traveled nearly 20 miles during its 20 minutes on the ground and was 1,500 feet wide at one point.

Updated tornado survey results on EF-3 tornado affecting Jefferson City on 5/22/2019. #MOwx #MidMOwx pic.twitter.com/DZxyrYOjgc

— NWS St. Louis (@NWSStLouis) May 23, 2019

The Diocese of Missouri said May 23 that initial reports from the Rev. Ian Lasch at Grace Church in Jefferson City are that the building is intact, although there has been at least some minor damage to a door.

“We do, however, have a fair amount of debris deposited around the church and in the courtyard,” the congregation said on its Facebook page May 24, announcing a gathering for later in the day to pick up the debris. “We will have pizza for everyone who comes to help. There is a little bit of broken glass in the courtyard, so if you have them, please bring a pair of work gloves.

“We will likely have plenty of help, so work may go quickly. If we finish too soon, we can always do some further cleanup around the block and in the neighborhood.”

A few photos of the damage in Jefferson City. The Patrol is assisting @JeffCityPolice and the Cole County Sheriff's Department with efforts after last night's tornado. #mowx pic.twitter.com/z7fZhIsysm

— MSHP General HQ (@MSHPTrooperGHQ) May 23, 2019

Jefferson City’s downtown churches are hosting an afternoon service May 26 at the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for “prayer and reflection focused on lifting up to God those who have been in harm’s way, the resilience of our community, the safe-keeping of our neighbors, and the future of our city as we rebuild and re-imagine our shared future.”

Members of nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Portland have checked in with one another, and they and the church appear to be fine, according to the diocese.

The Rev. Paul Snyder, a deacon who is the Diocese of Oklahoma’s disaster recovery coordinator, told Episcopal News Service late on May 23 that “we are in the middle of the disaster,” and residents there expect more storms to come. The diocese is a member of the Oklahoma Volunteer Organization Active During Disaster, or VOAD, and Episcopalians serve on the spiritual care and long-term recovery committees.

VOAD set up mobile area resource centers in the small towns of Haleyville and Blue. The diocese gave out $2,500 in gift cards at the two centers to help people get personal and hygiene items, Snyder said in an emailed message.

“The main thing that most are concerned with now is the flooding,” he wrote. “Several state highways look like lakes. They are opening dams to save them, which is causing flooding downstream. The Cimarron River has eroded 20 feet of shore line and washed away two homes. There are more homes hanging over the edge.”

The small town of Webber Falls, Oklahoma, was evacuated as two unmoored barges drifted on the Arkansas River and smashed into the nearby lock and dam.

Snyder said Tulsa has had two tornadoes as well as severe flooding causing some evacuations.

Episcopal Relief & Development is in touch with the Diocese of Missouri as it prepares to respond the needs of communities affected by the tornadoes, flooding and severe weather. The organization said earlier this week that its U.S. disaster team is supporting dioceses in their potential response efforts to flooding across the Midwest this spring.

The extreme weather that has ripped through the country’s midsection began late last week, with a string of tornadoes from Nebraska to Texas. Some injuries and home damage were reported near the airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but no fatalities were blamed on the more than 50 tornadoes spotted across the region from May 17 to 20.

Three people died on May 21 in two separate traffic incidents, in Missouri and Oklahoma, related to heavy rain and flooding, and a tornado-related death was reported May 22 in Iowa, according to AccuWeather.

Then overnight May 22, a new round of tornadoes and thunderstorms passed through central United States, including the tornado that hit Jefferson City.

Kenneth Harris, 86, and his 83-year-old wife, Opal, were found dead about 200 yards from their home near Golden City in the southwest corner of Missouri, and Betty Berg, 56, was killed and her husband, Mark, seriously injured when their mobile home was destroyed, according to the AP.

The town is less than an hour’s drive from Joplin, Missouri, which was devastated eight years ago by an EF-5 tornado that killed more than 130 people.

“Last night’s tornado activity and the increased flooding has been devastating our state,” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said May 23 on Twitter.

Last night’s tornado activity and the increased flooding has been devastating our state.

This morning we took an aerial tour of Jefferson City to see the damage firsthand and learn what support our emergency personal need. Help the recovery – STAY CLEAR of debris. pic.twitter.com/zIXSlCnufb

— Governor Mike Parson (@GovParsonMO) May 23, 2019

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org. – The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter. She can be reached at mfschjonberg@episcopalchurch.org.

The post Episcopalians begin recovery in states ripped by tornadoes, as they watch for more storms appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

San Joaquin Episcopalians’ 17-day pilgrimage concludes with ‘Immigrant Day of Action’

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 10:50am

San Joaquin Bishop David Rice and Warren Starr a member of St. James Cathedral in Fresno, California, lead the Pilgrimage of Hope’s team of walkers. Photo: Nelson Serrano

[Episcopal News Service] San Joaquin Episcopalians’ 17-day, 220-mile “Pilgrimage of Hope” started in Fresno and ended May 20 in Sacramento, where they joined nearly a thousand other activists for California’s 23rd annual “Immigrant Day of Action.”

Chanting “Vivan los imigrantes”, the activists met with lawmakers, advocating to extend health coverage to adults who are in the country illegally, and against efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census. About 1.8 million of California’s 3 million uninsured people are immigrants in the country illegally, according to legislative staffers. Of those, about 1.26 million have incomes low enough to qualify them for the state’s Medicaid program.

San Joaquin Bishop David Rice, who addressed the gathering and met with state lawmakers, said: “They saw us. They heard us. It crystallizes that we’re here. And they know we’ll be back. There are too many voices and too many needs that are yet to be enunciated in San Joaquin for us not to respond in some significant way in an ongoing fashion.”

‘Extraordinary generosity, radical hospitality’

From pausing for prayers in fields with farmworkers and stopping for selfies and impromptu live-streamed interviews, Rice said the pilgrims experienced extraordinary generosity and radical hospitality, helped to raise awareness and even developed a social media following, at #gopilgrimsgo and #thepilgrimageofhope.

“Everywhere we went, the impetus was to raise awareness regarding the status and plight of immigrants and our refugee sisters and brothers,” Rice told Episcopal News Service recently.

“Every night, we held awareness-raising events, a kind of Immigration 101 about the pilgrimage and why we were doing it”, engaging people who hosted the group in local Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist and Roman Catholic churches. Afterwards, pilgrims were overnight guests at church members’ homes.The stories of those they encountered along the road, from “someone saying they’ve been in the immigration process for 25 years, to a grandmother, pushing her grandchild in a stroller with us for 10 miles” became the stories they shared nightly, he said.

A holy ruckus: ‘we walk because they walk’

The Rev. Nancy Key, a co-chair of the pilgrimage planning committee, joined the May 4 “grand send-off” at St. James Cathedral in Fresno, and was in Sacramento to welcome the pilgrims when they arrived.

“Their mantra became ‘we walk because they walk’ yet our walk is so much different,” Key told ENS. “Even though we’re trying to raise a holy ruckus, to educate, to create awareness, to make an impact” the pilgrimage was nothing compared to the hardships of those who are walking to the border in hope of a better life for their families.

Rain and shine, the pilgrims’ weekdays began with morning prayer and an 8 a.m. start, in blistering 90-degree heat and sudden torrential downpours, through cities and farmland, stopping every five miles to pray, according to Wilson Colon, who drove a support vehicle. “I tended to a lot of blistered feet and tight tendons,” said Colon, a parishioner at St. Paul’s Church in Modesto.

Lee Halkias, 75, a member of St. Raphael’s Church in Oakhurst, couldn’t join the walkers, but wanted to help “so I loaded my motor home with food and supplies and joined them.”

“My dad was born in 1894 in Greece,” Halkias told ENS. “He came over here at 15 years old. It was a different system; easier to become a citizen. You didn’t have all the obstacles.”

On Sundays, the group worshipped in host churches. Some walkers joined the core group of about a dozen pilgrims at various parts along the way.

Like Erin Rausch, 39, a former Stockton resident who recently moved to Boise, Idaho, and who joined the group in Modesto, about half-way to Sacramento.

Rausch, a Boise State University coordinator for student service projects, “carried homesickness for my 3 1/2 -year-old son Jonathan with me” as a reminder of “so many folks, whether it be in detention centers or elsewhere, are separated from their children.”

And yet, “I had the certainty that after this I’d get to see him,” she added. “That is not true for our brothers and sisters in this situation.”For some, the changing landscape and temperatures prompted new awareness.

“The first day I walked it was really, really tough,” Rausch recalled. “It was very hot. We had 16 miles to go. “I was really struck by the experience of walking through a city and seeing how folks who don’t have access to cars really must experience it. Everything is fast cars, fast food, and really, in disregard for folk who may have to experience it a bit more slowly.”

Sometimes, she felt invisible, Other times, they were stopped by passersby. “As we walked along Eldorado Road in Stockton, a woman driving in the opposite direction stopped her car, rolled down the window and said, ‘I need to talk to you,’” Rausch recalled.

She was 64 years old and was taken away from her parents as an infant, then returned to her family at about age 4. “Her life story, literally, just bubbled up, how she was separated from her family. And even though this happened a long time ago, she was still afraid and said we couldn’t show her face or say her name. It reminded me of just how broken our immigration system has been for decades, and how much damage it has done to people and families for such a long time.”

A few blocks later, two men in a truck flagged down the group. “They asked us about what we’re doing and we tell them and they get so excited,” Rausch recalled. “One of them turns on his phone and starts live-streaming the entire conversation. He was on his way to work and, everything we said, he’d turn the phone to himself and translate into Spanish” for friends and family.

She added that: “There is a piece of this that is really about race and socioeconomic status. There are things that, because I’m white, I can do, and it’s important that I stand up for what is right and what needs to be done and how things need to change so we can have a humane immigration system.”

San Joaquin Canon to the Ordinary the Rev. Anna Carmichael said the pilgrimage “became our own walk to Emmaus,” as the group prayed, laughed, sang and danced their way to Sacramento and “we began to recognize Jesus in the people we broke bread with every day.”

And it was filled with unexpected surprises.

“We didn’t expect that in Livingston, at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, two of our dinner companions would tell us their stories of crossing the border as children,” she wrote in a blog post on the diocesan website. “Now, in their 40s, they have yet to return to Mexico. They left brothers and parents and other family behind. With tears in her eyes, Flor shared that her brothers think she has forgotten them because it’s been over 30 years since she’s seen them.”

“They walked with us the next day,” Carmichael told ENS. “It was not something we could have planned for.”

Receiving hospitality from strangers was incredible, Rausch said.

“It seems like a small thing, but in the late afternoon just a period of rest is amazing. They fed us dinner, allowed us to tell our stories and then members of their churches would take us into their homes. It was amazing.

“There were folks who put us up who do not agree with what we are doing,” she added. “Yet, they were willing to provide the hospitality and really open their homes to someone who needed a place to stay. That was really amazing to me in a country that is so divided right now.”

Carmichael said that hearing those difficult questions, “made me more compassionate and empathetic.

“Instead of shutting down, I was able to listen deeper and have those hard conversations with people, and not be defensive,” she said. “But to say, ‘look we don’t have all the answers, but we do have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters, if we claim we see Christ in everybody.

“But that … doing this pilgrimage meant we put into action what we say we believe. I feel almost more convicted in my faith because of it.”

–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

The post San Joaquin Episcopalians’ 17-day pilgrimage concludes with ‘Immigrant Day of Action’ appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

‘Walk in Love’ border tour provides insight into the complexity at the south-central Texas border

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 10:28am

Andrea Rudnik, a Team Brownsville volunteer and a member of Church of the Advent, leads “Walk in Love” participants carrying breakfast for migrants living in tents across the international bridge connecting Brownsville and Matamoros. Photo: Lynette Wilson Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – South Central Texas] All along the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border stretching from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California, Episcopalians are providing humanitarian aid to asylum-seekers and, where possible, providing support for law enforcement officers in their parishes and communities.

“Walk in Love” border tour, organized and led by the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas highlighted some of the Episcopal ministries and humanitarian in south-central Texas. The May 15–17 tour of Texas began in San Antonio and made stops along the U.S.-Mexico border in Roma, McAllen and Brownsville. (The West Texas diocese geographically covers 69,000-square-miles of mostly rural central and south Texas and includes 60 congregations.)

“The intention of the perspectives and experiences gained on the tour is to provide information and shed the light of Christ, not stoke the fires of discord, on very complicated realities experienced by people within our communities,” said West Texas Bishop David Reed, in a press release.

Reed, who stayed behind for personal reasons, met with participants at the diocesan office for prayer and a send-off on the morning of May 15. North Carolina Suffragan Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple, an Austin native, was the only bishop to make the trip, which only came together in recent weeks.

North Carolina Suffragan Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple and the Rev. Laurie McKim, rector, of Church of the Advent in Brownsville, Texas, presided over a Eucharist at the foot of the bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. Photo: Lynette Wilson Episcopal News Service

Along the tour, Episcopal Church and West Texas staff and Hodges-Copple heard from a rancher, Border Patrol agents, Episcopalians and others responding to the surge in migrants and asylum-seekers at the south-central Texas border.

The decision to participate was more “emotional than intellectual; I need to go and be present,” said Hodges-Copple. “I just need to be present, not with any presuppositions, not with any agenda, just to be present and listen and see for myself and try to see what God is trying to say at this time.”

It was her Texas roots as well as North Carolina’s growing Latino immigrant population that also influenced her decision to attend the border tour.

“I’ve lived in North Carolina most of my adult life, but I grew up in Texas and have family all over Texas. But as a bishop and a priest for over 30 years, the community in North Carolina that is growing numerically, growing in faith and growing our churches, are our newest neighbors who are all from Central America,” Hodges-Copple said. “These are our folks from Honduras, from El Salvador, from Guatemala, and they love going to church and they love bringing their children to church. These are the families our Episcopal churches are praying come through our doors, and that’s happening in North Carolina.

“If I’m going to also understand my people, then I need to understand some of what they’ve been through and some about where they are coming from. I’ve done trips to Honduras, I’ve been in Central America, but what is happening on the border has just felt particularly heartbreaking, confusing, painful.”

Detention centers at the U.S. border are overcapacity as a steady stream of migrants, many of them from Central America, but some from as far away as China, India, Eritrea and Angola, plus others fleeing Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil continue to arrive. In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained 109,144 migrants, the highest number since 2007, at the southwestern border.

On Thursday, May 16, following a 5 a.m. muster at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Station in McAllen, tour participants joined the Rev. Rod Clark, vicar of St. Peter & St. Paul in nearby Mission, to deliver breakfast tacos to about 75 law enforcement agents, including Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and U.S. Coast Guard officers.

Members of St. Peter & St. Paul have been making some 600 tacos a week, feeding migrants and asylum-seekers, and occasionally, they extend the taco ministry to law enforcement officials, like they did last week.

Images coming out of McAllen show miserable, overcrowded conditions. Border Patrol agents who spoke with border tour participants acknowledged that the situation is bad, and that they are not equipped to process the large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers arriving at the border and effectively meet their humanitarian needs.

On May 21, less than a week after the tour’s visit to McAllen, a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died in U.S. custody there; he was one of six children to die in U.S. custody since in the last six months. The boy had the flu; his death and a flu outbreak at the immigrant detention center forced officials to suspend processing migrants temporarily at the McAllen center, the largest processing facility in the country. Full operations resumed on May 22.

“You see the photos of people on the street,” said one veteran Border Protection agent following the May 16 muster and taco breakfast. “We don’t have anywhere else to put them. We’re overflowing at the seams everywhere, and this is across the southern border.”

Moreover, tending to migrants’ humanitarian needs has caused many agents to shift their duties away from counternarcotics. Agents said the cartels have effectively moved drugs across the border by exploiting migrant caravans and trafficking people to deflect resources and attention away from curbing the illegal drug trade. Cartels are holding trafficked people in overcrowded stash houses.

“We react to them [the cartels],” said another veteran Border Patrol agent and a member of St. Peter & St. Paul, who spoke to the border tour participants during a May 16 discussion at the church.

As Border Patrol agents agreed, they don’t make the law, they enforce it; and if border tour participants learned anything, it’s that the situation is complicated along the border region, which extends 60 miles north into the United States and 20 miles south into Mexico. (On May 21, the Trump administration suggested diverting $230 million in funds from the Transportation and Security Administration to pay for operations at the border.)

Hearing from law enforcement agents, city officials and Christians responding to asylum-seekers’ needs, and asylum-seekers themselves revealed the immigration crisis’ complexities.

“During the Diocese of West Texas Walk in Love Border Tour, I was pleased to learn from a variety of perspectives. We know that crafting policy and implementing policy is a complicated and messy process and lived realities in any community are similarly complex,” said Lacy Broemel, refugee and immigration policy analyst who works out of The Episcopal Church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations.

“Immigration in the United States is certainly a prime example of the complexities in policy. While there is a responsibility to confront security risks and to simultaneously uphold laws and protections for vulnerable persons, The Episcopal Church holds that immigration benefits our communities and nation as a whole,” she said. “We believe there must be a renewed effort by Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would modernize our immigration system to make it just for all persons.

“Through listening to city officials, Border Patrol, and volunteers working with asylum-seekers, I was reminded of the direct impact decisions by elected officials have on the issues and people we care about. I gained a sense of renewed passion to continue to advocate for policies that put the dignity of every person at the center.”

The tour began outside the border region, in San Antonio, where the West Texas diocese has its administrative offices and where churches like St. Mark’s Episcopal and Travis Park Church in the heart of downtown have partnered with the city’s Department of Human Services through its Faith-Based Initiative.

Tour participants heard firsthand during a session at St. Mark’s about the city’s humanitarian response from Department of Human Services officials who explained the situation on the ground.

For the most part, asylum-seekers traveling in family units are boarding private buses at overcrowded immigrant detention centers closer to the border and then making transfers through San Antonio’s bus station and airport.

Travis Park Church partners with the city to shelter migrants who have received legal asylum status as they make their way to unite or reunite with family members or hosts who’ve agreed to house them through asylum process, which can take up to two years.

The Rev. Gavin Rogers, a United Methodist associate pastor, explained to the tour group that his church went from sleeping an average 50 asylum-seekers a night to 190 or more in recent months. And, he explained, the church facility continues to operate its homeless ministry.

(Read Rogers’ account of joining a migrant caravan here.)

During the tour’s last stop in Brownsville, border tour participants connected with Andrea Rudnik, a parishioner at Church of the Advent, which is part of Team Brownsville, an interfaith initiative tending to the needs of migrants and asylum-seekers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Joining Rudnik in crossing the bridge connecting Brownsville to Matamoros, border tour participants transported breakfast to migrants living in tents next to the bridge on the Mexico side while awaiting entry into the United States.

There, following breakfast and before an impromptu Eucharist, Tatiana Hoecker, Diocese of West Texas’ world mission coordinator, spoke to an asylum-seeker from Cuba who has been making his way to the border through 13 countries since September 2018.

“The journey is so intense and it’s not the same story over and over again, but they are similar and then I think, how can it get worse? Like today, that guy who’s traveled 13 countries since September: one journey, one goal,” said Hoecker, who also referenced the untold number of people who don’t make it, who die along the way.

Alberto, the Cuban asylum-seeker, has been waiting two months at the U.S.-Mexico border. At first, he traveled alone, but then joined another group of Cubans in Guyana. From there, they traveled through the jungle, through Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Panama.

“He said that very few made it to where he is,” she said. “I don’t think he gave a number, but it was less than five people [in his group], they lost three people from their group in the jungles.

“And that story, I know it happens, but that’s not a story I’ve heard before. I heard another story recently where it was a couple that had gone through the same kind of path through the jungle and the husband cannot sleep at night because he’s envisioning the bodies that they saw.”

Episcopalians may join Partners in Welcome and also connect with Episcopal Migration Ministries to learn how they can help. To contact EMM for help connecting asylees with services through its resettlement affiliates, email emm@episcopalchurch.org.

Many of the migrants to gain asylum and enter the United States are recovering from violence and suffering trauma, which is another avenue where Episcopalians can assist.

“Episcopal Migration Ministries’ network of refugee resettlement affiliates stand ready to serve those who receive asylum. Asylees (the status given to asylum-seekers who receive asylum) are eligible to receive many of the same services that refugees who are resettled to the U.S. also receive,” said Allison Duvall, Episcopal Migration Ministries’ manager for church relations and engagement.

“Through EMM’s new Partners in Welcome program, we’re also connecting Episcopalians, congregations and ministries across the church with opportunities to connect, support, learn, and serve. We’re currently forming a working group that will develop a toolkit for congregations who want to support and walk alongside asylum-seekers,” she said. “We’re also partnering closely with colleagues from Church World Service and other organizations who are part of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition to connect asylum-seekers with assistance and support in transit and destination cities throughout the U.S.”

– Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at lwilson@episcopalchurch.org.

The post ‘Walk in Love’ border tour provides insight into the complexity at the south-central Texas border appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Justice Pilgrimage brings together 20 Episcopal clergy members for intensive racial healing work

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 5:10pm

The Rev. Skip Walker leads an evensong and discussion at the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 20 during the center’s weeklong Justice Pilgrimage. Photo: Absalom Jones Center

[Episcopal News Service] Twenty Episcopal priests and deacons are wrapping up a weeklong pilgrimage in Atlanta, Georgia, organized by the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing as a pilot program that could become a new model for furthering The Episcopal Church’s racial reconciliation work.

Participants in the center’s Justice Pilgrimage were selected from all 20 dioceses in the church’s Province IV, which encompasses all or part of nine states in the Southeast. Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright spoke to the group on May 19 to welcome them.

“The common purpose is to understand the American story in all of its nuance and figure out where the opportunities for healing and justice are,” Wright said May 23 in an interview with Episcopal News Service. That nuance, Wright explained, is what allows people from different backgrounds to come together and feel comfortable openly and honestly discussing difficult questions of race and racism.

“It doesn’t really call for self-flagellation. Shame is not the goal,” Wright said. “It is to understand our role in this very complex thing and to seek healing and justice.”

The pilgrimage includes a full itinerary of lectures and discussions at the Absalom Jones Center in Atlanta, as well as a two-day bus trip with stops at African American historical sites in Savanna, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. When it concludes May 24, the pilgrims’ work will only be beginning.

“It’s an intensive week, and then we’re asking them for six months’ commitment,” Absalom Jones Center Executive Director Catherine Meeks told ENS. During the next six months, participants will be asked to develop and follow a plan to work toward dismantling racism in their parishes and communities, and afterward, they will reunite in Atlanta to talk about that work with each other.

“I’m hoping that these people will become allies with each other and supportive, and the center will serve as a catalyst for trying to make that happen,” Meeks said.

She and other organizers then will use the experience of this first Justice Pilgrimage to refine future efforts of the Absalom Jones Center, which is a partnership between the Diocese of Atlanta and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s office. The center aims to host two such pilgrimages annually for groups of 20 to 25 starting in May 2020. Participants are responsible only for air fare to get them to Atlanta, and their food, lodging and the bus trip are covered by the center.

The ultimate goal is to deepen The Episcopal Church’s work of racial reconciliation at the local level. General Convention long has prioritized such work, requiring dioceses to facilitate anti-racism training for clergy and lay leaders, but the implementation of those mandates has been uneven from diocese to diocese.

Meeks, who previously led the Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism,  inspired the development of the church’s Becoming Beloved Community framework that was unveiled in 2017. Now, at the Absalom Jones Center, she sees the Justice Pilgrimage as a new, meaningful way of engaging clergy members directly to take action in their contexts.

“I’m trying to see if we can create a collection of priests and deacons that are empowered and inspired to go deeper than has been happening in the local parish,” she said. “The center is really focused on the idea of localizing parishes to do the work of dismantling racism.”

Presenters this week have discussed a range of topics with the 20 participants. Richard Hughes, a religion professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, talked about how insidious notions of white supremacy are ingrained in American society. The Rev. Ken Swanson, rector at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roswell, Georgia, spoke of his awakening as a white man to his own privilege and a personal call to help dismantle racism.

Byron Rushing, vice president of The Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, presented a historical overview of systems of racism in the United States and ways they are connected to the church. Meeks spoke about how minorities often internalize oppression, affecting their quality of life. And the Rev. Lynne Washington, priest-in-charge at Atlanta’s Church of the Incarnation, gave a presentation about African and African American spirituality.

The bus trip was a way to build on those discussion by giving participants firsthand experiences with historical sites and artifacts.

One stop allowed participants to visit Savannah’s Weeping Time Memorial, which marks the sale of hundreds of slaves at once in 1859 by plantation owners to avoid bankruptcy. The pilgrimage also visited the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston. Professional tour guides were hired to share their expertise on the tragic history represented by such sites.

Civil rights pilgrimages by congregations are increasingly common in the South, particularly in Montgomery, Alabama, since the opening in 2018 of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which memorializes lynching victims. One parish, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, took 82 people to the memorial and other sites on a pilgrimage in August.

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tallahassee, Florida, embarked on a similar pilgrimage to Alabama in February. And just this week, while the Absalom Jones Center hosted its pilgrims in Atlanta, more than 50 Episcopalians spent several days in Alabama on another pilgrimage to civil rights sites there.

Meeks praises such efforts toward racial healing. She also sees the Absalom Jones Center’s pilgrimage as taking a somewhat different approach, not just touring sites but also fostering intensive discussion and reflection that will continue long after participants leave Atlanta.

“The commitment on the front end is you will engage this work and then come back together in six months to talk about what you did,” she said.

Jesus provided the original Christian model for taking on this kind of “interior work” and also seeking the “durable fellowship” with other disciples to inspire greater love for our neighbors, Wright said.

“People are going out with more than information,” he said. They also will take home “some embodiment of truth to go out and make a difference.”

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

The post Justice Pilgrimage brings together 20 Episcopal clergy members for intensive racial healing work appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Parishioner turns Missouri church’s unused lot into apple orchard in twist on garden ministries

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 4:21pm

Children help apply mulch to one of the apple trees planted on unused space next to Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves, Missouri. Photo: Dale Penrose

[Episcopal News Service] Dale Penrose is no Johnny Appleseed, though he’s played that role before, on the church lawn last fall for preschoolers.

The lawn, a grassy wedge just east of the parking lot at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves, Missouri, isn’t much of a lawn anymore, but rather a budding apple orchard. It’s a fitting addition to a neighborhood known as Old Orchard, where apple cultivation once was prevalent, and the congregation hopes someday to reap the full fruits of what Penrose has sown.

“This year we might get a bushel or two,” Penrose said when Episcopal News Service caught up with him by phone to ask about the orchard he planted for Emmanuel in spring 2016.

A church with an apple orchard? Feeding ministries (Emmanuel has one of those, too) aren’t unusual. Many churches have gardens, though an orchard is a unique twist. This one has more trees – 15 – than Jesus had apostles. So far, no serpents have tempted young couples here with forbidden fruit.

More troublesome were the snacking deer that prematurely trimmed several of the trees, and some others were inadvertently felled by lawnmowers. After several replantings, the orchard at Emmanuel is back to full strength. As it grows, the congregation is touting the orchard as an opportunity to beautify a prominent city corner, to provide produce for its food pantry, to teach lessons in environmental stewardship and to simply to enjoy one of God’s tastiest creations.

“They’re a durable food,” the Rev. Jennifer Hulen, rector at Emmanuel, told ENS. “I’m a hiker and a camper, so apples are good trail food. And we’re all kind of on a trail in life.”

The apple orchard at Emmanuel Episcopal Church features 14 varieties of trees, and while the trees are expected to produce some fruit this year, a full harvest is still a few years away. Photo: Dale Penrose

The orchard doesn’t include Hulen’s favorite variety, Fuji, but it has 14 others: Arkansas Black, Baldwin, Braestar, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Franklin Cider, Golden Delicious, Orleans, Red Rome, Suncrisp, Wagener, Wealthy, Winesap, Wolf River and Yellow Transparent. Penrose planted two Golden Delicious trees, because they are universal pollinators, and all are well-suited for the climate and soil in Webster Groves, a suburb that borders St. Louis to the west.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church was built in 1886 on property given to the congregation by the Lockwoods, a family that owned 80 acres in the Old Orchard neighborhood. The Lockwoods and other families had long maintained orchards in the area. “In the spring the blossoms transformed the orchards into fairyland, and in the fall the orchards smelled like cider,” the Webster Groves Historical Society describes in its guide for a walking tour of the neighborhood.

Penrose, 58, has attended Emmanuel since 2001, and around the time the church was getting ready to celebrate its 150th anniversary, he had church-based agriculture on his mind.

“We had a large space of unused land at Emmanuel, but it was way too visible to put in a garden,” he said. If you fall behind on the weeding, Penrose explained, suddenly your street-side garden becomes an eyesore. “So, I thought, well, you know putting an orchard in there would look really pretty, it would fit the community and it would provide just as much food as a garden would.”

He brought his idea to the rector, Hulen’s predecessor – whose name, no fooling, was the Rev. Dan Appleyard – and after discussions with the senior warden and church committees about cost and upkeep, Penrose won approval to begin planting.

Dale Penrose planted 15 apple trees at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in 2016, though he had to replant some of them after run-ins with deer and lawnmowers. Photo: Dale Penrose

Each tree cost $40 to $50. Appleyard bought one with money from his discretionary fund, and the senior warden chipped in for a second. Penrose covered the cost of the rest, selecting them from a nursery north of St. Louis. At full size, they will grow up to 20 feet tall, he said, and a full harvest after all 15 trees mature will yield an estimated 100 to 150 bushels of apples a year, or about 3 tons.

“Not bad for an unused green space,” Penrose said.

The 14 varieties also will peak at different times from mid-July to early November, starting with the Yellow Transparent. That’s Penrose’s favorite apple, because it reminds him of growing up in western Iowa among the apple trees and orchards maintained by his extended family.

Dale Penrose prunes the trees at Emmanuel Episcopal Church every winter and spends about $30 to $40 on organic pesticides and mulch, but he said the apple orchard doesn’t require much else to maintain. Photo: Emmanuel Episcopal Church

“That was the tree in my grandparents’ front yard,” he said. “When we were kids, we were climbing that tree eating apples late June to mid-July.”

Penrose also maintains a couple apple trees at his own home, as well as a pear tree and some gooseberry bushes. He has some past experience in commercial gardening but now works on equipment maintenance for a small brewery in St. Louis.

The orchard at Emmanuel has become a personal passion for Penrose, who enjoys involving children of the congregation in his work. Each year, students of Emmanuel’s vacation Bible school have helped with mulching around the trees.

And for a congregation that tops 200 worshipers on a typical Sunday, the orchard offers a tangible example of faith in action and a spiritual connection to the land, Hulen said. “To know God through creation and to be able to know we’re partners in taking care of the Earth and we’re partners in providing out of our abundance to our brothers and sisters who have a struggle.”

The orchard has room for Penrose eventually to add up to nine more trees, possibly including a peach tree and a pear tree. It’s a unique ministry, but Penrose said it need not be exclusive to Emmanuel.

“I think it’d be a great thing for other churches to do,” he said, “if they had the space.”

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

The post Parishioner turns Missouri church’s unused lot into apple orchard in twist on garden ministries appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Ubicación, equipo de planificación nombrado para el 2020 Episcopal Youth Event

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 1:58pm

[Mayo 20, 2019] El Departamento de Formación de Fe anunció hoy que el Episcopal Youth Event (EYE20) se llevará a cabo en colaboración con la Catedral Nacional de Washington y la Diócesis Episcopal de Washington en el campus de la Universidad de Howard del 7 al 11 de julio de 2020.

“La Universidad de Howard fue elegida como el lugar para el EYE20 después de un exhaustivo proceso de solicitud y discernimiento”, dijo Wendy Johnson, coordinadora de eventos para EYE20. “Estamos agradecidos por cada diócesis, empleado y obispo que trabajó con nosotros durante el año pasado, y esperamos con ansias trabajar junto a la Universidad de Howard, la Diócesis de Washington y la Catedral Nacional de Washington para organizar EYE20 “.

“En la Diócesis de Washington nos sentimos honrados de colaborar para darle la bienvenida al Evento Episcopal Juvenil de 2020 en Washington, DC, y oramos para que todos los involucrados en el proceso de planificación sientan el poder del Espíritu Santo guiándolos en cada paso del camino”, dijo el Reverendo Correcto Mariann Edgar Budde, obispa diocesana. “Estamos agradecidos de ser el lugar donde cientos de jóvenes se reunirán para acercarse más a Jesús y seguir su camino de amor”.

“Qué alegría será darles la bienvenida a estos jóvenes a Washington DC”, dijo el Reverendísimo Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Deán de la Catedral Nacional de Washington. “Estamos muy contentos de ayudar a acoger este evento y estamos muy agradecidos de trabajar con la Universidad de Howard.”

Las inscripciones para EYE20 se coordinan a través de los registradores diocesanos que el obispo diocesano nombrará en el otoño. Las instrucciones para discernir una delegación diocesana se enviarán directamente a los registradores.

El equipo de planificación EYE20 ha sido nombrado

Cada evento juvenil episcopal es planificado e implementado por jóvenes voluntarios y adultos mentores seleccionados a través de un proceso de solicitud y discernimiento.

“Episcopal Youth Event es único en la vida de la iglesia, ya que es planificado por un equipo de jóvenes episcopales, para jóvenes episcopales”, dijo Bronwyn Clark Skov, directora del Departamento de Formación de Fe y funcionaria de ministerios juveniles. “Esperamos con ansias trabajar con este nuevo equipo para planificar un evento que se contextualice tanto dentro de la era en la que vivimos, así como dentro de la ubicación en Washington DC”.

Los siguientes jóvenes solicitantes han aceptado la invitación a participar en el equipo de planificación EYE20:

  • Jackson Humphreys, Diócesis Episcopal de Massachusetts, Provincia I
  • Caitlin Mahoney, Convocación de Iglesias Episcopales en Europa, Provincia II
  • Adajah D. Joseph, Diócesis Episcopal de Long Island, Provincia II
  • Yifan Wang, Diócesis Episcopal de Long Island, Provincia II
  • Charlie Kirk, Diócesis Episcopal de Tennessee Oriental, Provincia IV
  • Owen Snape, Diócesis Episcopal de Atlanta, Provincia IV
  • Robert Sánchez, Diócesis Episcopal de Indianápolis, Provincia V
  • Kayla Byrd, Diócesis Episcopal de Michigan, Provincia V
  • Trueli Thor, Iglesia Episcopal en Minnesota, Provincia VI
  • Solveigh Barney, Diócesis Episcopal de Dakota del Norte, Provincia VI
  • Arty Langford, Diócesis Episcopal de Wyoming, Provincia VI
  • Caleb Carnes, Diócesis Episcopal de Texas, Provincia VII
  • Cole Hadden, Diócesis Episcopal de Arkansas, Provincia VII
  • Emily Lawitz, Diócesis Episcopal de Texas Occidental, Provincia VII
  • Holly Quinonez Wrampelmeier, Diócesis Episcopal de Texas Noroccidental, Provincia VII
  • Giovanna Zampa, Diócesis Episcopal de California Norte, Provincia VIII

Se discernirá quien será el miembro joven del equipo de planificación de la Provincia IX este verano después de Evento de Jóvenes Episcopales.

Los siguientes solicitantes como adultos mentores han aceptado la invitación a participar en el equipo de planificación EYE20:

  • Nikia Alleyne, Diócesis Episcopal de Long Island
  • Margaret Foote, Diócesis Episcopal de Ohio Sur
  • Israel Alexander Portilla Gómez, Diócesis Episcopal de Colombia
  • Christoph Herpel, Convocación de Iglesias Episcopales en Europa
  • Patrick Kangrga, Diócesis Episcopal de California
  • Michele Morgan, Diócesis Episcopal de Washington
  • Marcia Quintanilla, Diócesis Episcopal de Texas
  • Karen Schlabach, Diócesis Episcopal de Kansas
  • Joshawa Trader, Diócesis Episcopal Missouri Occidental

Las siguientes personas desempeñan funciones especializadas en el equipo de planificación:

  • Julia Domenick, Iglesia Episcopal en Minnesota, es la coordinadora del equipo médico.
  • Abigail White Moon, Diócesis Episcopal de Florida, sirve como capellana al equipo de planificación.
  • Rich Clark, Diócesis Episcopal del Suroeste de la Florida, coordinador del equipo de cuidado pastoral.
  • Lauren Wainwright, Diócesis Episcopal de Dallas, coordinadora del equipo de cuidado pastoral.
  • Mildred Reyes, quien sirve como misionera para la formación de la Diócesis Episcopal de Washington, es la persona enlace entre el equipo de planificación EYE20 y la diócesis.

La solicitud para jóvenes adultos con interés ​​en formar parte del equipo de cuidado pastoral estará disponible en junio. El discernimiento y las decisiones en cuanto al equipo ocurrirán en el otoño.

¿Tiene alguna pregunta? Escriba a eye@episcopalchurch.org.

The post Ubicación, equipo de planificación nombrado para el 2020 Episcopal Youth Event appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Diocese of West Texas partners with Episcopal Church in Navajoland

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 12:01pm

Diocese of West Texas volunteers pray for the health of their newly planted plum tree outside the Hozho Wellness Center in Farmington, N.M. Photo: Mike Patterson

[Diocese of West Texas – Farmington, New Mexico] Generations of Navajos were born, were treated and died at the San Juan Mission Hospital before it closed five decades ago. Occasionally, someone stops to ask about a hospital record, now kept at All Saints Church, across the gravel parking lot from the hospital building.

Founded in 1918, All Saints grew into the San Juan Mission Hospital in 1922 and was among three medical missions established by The Episcopal Church that served as the only medical facilities for the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation.

Today, after serving the medical needs of the Navajo Nation for decades, the old hospital is taking on a new life by focusing on tribal members’ emotional wellness and physical needs.

In 2016, The Episcopal Church in Navajoland launched a massive restoration project to transform the boarded-up rock structure into the Hozho Wellness Center. The center will serve Navajo women and families by offering support, counseling and classes, from parenting to cooking, nutrition and art – seeking to restore their sense of hozho, a Navajo cultural term meaning balance, harmony and life.

The Episcopal Church in Navajoland has converted the former San Juan Mission Hospital in Farmington, New Mexico, into the Hozho Wellness Center. Photo: Mike Patterson

While the upper floor will serve as the wellness center, the ground floor will be the home of Cheii’s Web Development, a start-up enterprise created by Navajoland to teach young people coding skills and create jobs in web development, graphic and logo design, social media management and photography.

Funding for the project has been provided by The Episcopal Church and other grants and donations.

Despite numerous setbacks, including a fire that required structural repairs, enough work had been accomplished by the spring of 2018 to enable Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to consecrate its small chapel during his tour of Navajoland. The entire project was scheduled for completion in mid-2019.

The wellness center also has had volunteer help from the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and Trinity Church Wall Street. A six-member delegation from Diocese of West Texas spent a week this spring working on the center, following another team from the Diocese of West Texas that did construction work and painted in the fall 2018.

Amid endless runs to the landscape nursery and and to the local home improvement warehouse for supplies paid for by the Diocese of West Texas, the small group of volunteers installed a drip irrigation system for future landscaping foliage, added a drainage pathway to route rainwater away from the building’s foundation, planted two apple trees, a pear tree and a plum tree, painted the interior staircase, provided advice on how to install the mantel on the fireplace, cleaned out the yard of the former rectory – now used as a dormitory for visiting volunteers – hauled off rolls of old carpet to the dump and grubbed up a vegetable garden.

Dusty Hoecker supervises Dub Hankins as he trenches for water lines outside the Hozho Wellness Center. Photo: Mike Patterson

“I think this is wonderful,” said volunteer Tom Lee, a retired district attorney and judge and member of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Bandera, Texas. “I hope it’s a blessing to the Navajo. We’re trying to give them a place of peace and joy.”

The Hozho Wellness Center and All Saints Church are part of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland, the only area mission in the church. As such, it functions like a diocese with its own bishop but is under the oversight of the presiding bishop and House of Bishops. It was formed in 1977 by the House of Bishops from portions of the Dioceses of Arizona and Utah. In 1979, the General Convention added a part of the Diocese of the Rio Grande.

The area mission overlays the Navajo Reservation, home to about 125,000- 150,000 Navajos, of whom about 1,000 are Episcopalians. At one time, as many as 5,000 Episcopalians lived there. All Saints, with the Rev. Michael Sells as its priest-in -charge, is one of nine Episcopal churches in the region.

The Navajos call themselves The Diné – The People – and are one of the largest American Indian tribes in the United States. Their culture is centered on a divine creator, and their tradition of worship rooted in the earth.

The Navajos are famous as Code Talkers who, in their native tongue, passed secret messages among U.S. forces fighting the Japanese. The Japanese never cracked their language, which helped lead to their defeat in World War II.

The genesis of the Diocese of West Texas’s relationship with Navajoland began when Navajoland Bishop David Bailey contacted West Texas Bishop David Reed about forming a partnership between the two entities.

Bailey visited the headquarters of the West Texas diocese in San Antonio in December 2017 and spent nearly a day talking about the Navajos and the priorities.

“He told us about his background, about the needs, about the challenges of working in Navajoland, the challenges of the people,” said Marthe Curry, director of World Mission Development for the diocese and leader of the spring trip. “When he came, he said that we don’t want your money, we want your partnership.”

Bailey returned to West Texas in February 2018 to speak at the annual Diocesan Council.

Since then, several teams from the diocese have visited Navajoland to listen and explore their needs.

A struggle across generations

The most traumatic experience for the Navajo occurred on the Long Walk in 1864 when the U.S. Army forcibly removed the Navajo from their homeland in Canyon de Chelly and marched them across New Mexico during a brutal winter to Bosque Redondo at Fort Sumner. Their possessions were taken, farmlands destroyed and livestock killed. They were not allowed to return to their homeland until 1868.

The Navajo continued to suffer other abuses under the government, such as their children being taken, placed in boarding schools and punished for speaking their language and practicing their culture.

The area, which encompasses parts of three states – New Mexico, Utah and Arizona – has four casinos yet only three hospitals.

The unemployment rate is 47 percent, a staggering 90 percent in the most remote and isolated pockets on the Navajo Reservation. A third of the people have no running water and haul water to their homes in barrels on the beds of pickup trucks. Electricity is equally scarce.

Nearly a third of the people live in extreme poverty. There are also high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic abuse and diabetes and other health issues. Suicide rates are high, especially among young people.

Church leaders are also sensitive about how to blend Anglican traditions in culturally appropriate manners that also honor the Navajo faith traditions.

“The Navajos had a connection with God, they had a connection with the spirit, they had a connection with the land,” said Jeanne Loggie of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in San Antonio who was a member of the first delegation to visit Navajoland in 2018. “It was in the plants, it was in the rocks, it was in the wind, it was in the rain. It was in every element. Then the white man came in and we cast that aside. We told them what they should believe and how they connect.”

The Navajo beliefs and Episcopal beliefs are “different faiths,” said the Rev. Cornelia Eaton, one of five representatives from The Episcopal Church to attend the 2019 United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“I can blend the two faiths together,” she explained while standing on the doorsteps of All Saints. She was raised an Episcopalian at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in nearby Upper Fruitland. “It’s a good mix. It’s a good challenge – how God can work in different ways. We can be a church that is very unique.”

Sells, an economics major at Arizona State University and newly ordained, decided to enter the ministry after trying law school a year and finding that wasn’t the career he wanted. With the encouragement of Bailey, he attended the Church Divinity School of the Pacific seminary and was placed at All Saints last fall.

“My dream is that my little church will be self-sustaining and eventually do outreach,” said Sells, himself a Navajo. Like Sells, most members of All Saints and other Episcopal churches here were raised as Episcopalians rather than joining the denomination later.

Sells sometimes blends the Anglican and Navajo cultures together in a service, such as incorporating Navajo prayers, eagle feathers and cedar blessings. To acknowledge their traditions, Sells invites his congregation to gather in the sanctuary of All Saints Church to sing Navajo songs and traditional hymns in their native language.

Hope for the future

This late spring day, as the last long rays of the sun settled across the flat-topped mesas of the Navajo Reservation, the West Texas volunteers joined with a half-dozen Navajos from All Saints in lifting their voices together in singing the famous hymn of redemption, “Amazing Grace,” but only after the visitors were given a brief lesson in pronunciations.

Marthe Curry sands staircase before painting at the Hozho Wellness Center. Photo: Mike Patterson

“Our teams are very impressed and interested and learning about their religion,” said Curry, the West Texas world mission director. “We’re trying to see overlaps. They have been fascinated with the Navajo liturgy. Our teams have been interested in their perspective about God,” especially respect for the creator.

“I see it as another way to seek spirituality, another way to seek connections to God,” Loggie, the San Antonio volunteer, said in an interview. “That’s what we’re all doing, that’s what we’re all struggling with, where is my part in respecting and honoring God?”

One effort to help the Navajo become more self-sufficient is the Shimá of Navajoland, a market for hand-crafted soaps, honey and blue corn meal.

Curry has been asked to help create a master plan for the area. One of her main areas of focus is St. Christopher’s Episcopal Mission in Bluff, Utah, whose 8-acre campus and multiple buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It also provides a community garden and free water well for nearby residents.

“It’s like a ghost town,” she said. “There are lots of buildings, but most of them need restoration and repairs. Some of them are falling apart.”

The Diocese of West Texas has tasked Rob Watson, director of camps and conferences at the diocese, to get involved at St. Christopher’s and help plan a way to transform it into a retreat center.

“He was beside himself with all the potential. It’s gorgeous out here,” Curry said.

Working with the Rev. Kay Rohde, a former National Parks ranger who now is priest-in-charge at St. Christopher’s, a list of needs was drawn up for every building and input obtained about what the Navajo would like to see happen here.

An hour away, at St. Mary’s of the Moonlight Episcopal Church near Monument Valley, Bailey has a vision of developing accommodations, such as a hostel or hotel, to serve the bustling tourist industry in the area

The goal is to “tie everything into the master plan rather than everybody having their own little project,” Curry said.

The volunteers who have visited Navajoland on numerous work and listening trips over the past year return home deeply touched by their experience on the arid landscape and with the Navajo.

“I developed a huge interest in the people and the land,” Loggie said. “The land is holy. That was so profound to me, I just felt drawn in. You can feel it in the wind, you can feel it in the earth. It’s a presence, it’s almost a presence you can’t see. But I felt it in everything. I cried a lot when I was there. It was a very spiritual experience, very emotional.”

–Mike Patterson a freelance writer and photographer, is a member of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Blanco.  He is a frequent contributor to The Church News and the Episcopal News Service.

The post Diocese of West Texas partners with Episcopal Church in Navajoland appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Episcopal Church in Vermont elects Shannon MacVean-Brown as 11th bishop

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 11:18am

[Episcopal Church in Vermont] The Episcopal Church in Vermont has announced the election of the Rev. Shannon MacVean-Brown, interim rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Franklin, Indiana, as its 11th bishop diocesan.

MacVean-Brown was elected on the first ballot of the Special Electing Convention held May 18 in Burlington, receiving 41 votes in the clergy order and 69 votes in the lay order. A minimum of 31 clergy votes and 58 lay votes were necessary for election on that ballot.

The other nominees were:

• The Rev. Hillary D. Raining, rector, St. Christopher’s Church, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.
• The Very Rev. Hilary B. Smith, rector, Holy Comforter, Richmond, Virginia.

Shannon MacVean-Brown

“I am thrilled to welcome the Rev. Dr. Shannon MacVean-Brown as bishop-elect,” the Rev. Rick Swanson, president of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, said. “Her gifts and skills for ministry will not only lead the Episcopal Church of Vermont into the future, but her role in the wider Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion will be a voice of hope and promise for all of God’s people throughout the world.”

Commenting on the election, MacVean-Brown said, “I’m excited that the people of the Episcopal Church in Vermont are so willing to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and try something courageous. I am looking forward to forging relationships, participating in ministry, and joining in the work of the church in the brave little state of Vermont.”

This historic election marks the first time an African American has been elected as bishop of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Additionally, MacVean-Brown will be one of only three African American women to hold the title of bishop in any of the seven dioceses that make up the Episcopal Church in New England, also known as Province I of The Episcopal Church. The first was the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris, who served as a bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Massachusetts from 1989 to 2003 and the Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris, who is presently serving as bishop suffragan in that diocese.

MacVean-Brown holds a Master of Divinity degree from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Ecumenical Theological Seminary. She was ordained deacon in 2004 and priest in 2005 in the Diocese of Michigan. MacVean-Brown and her husband, Phil, have been married for 26 years. Together they have three daughters. MacVean-Brown resides in Indiana but will be relocating to Vermont.

Pending the consent of a majority of Episcopal bishops with jurisdiction and a majority of the diocesan standing committees, MacVean-Brown will be ordained and consecrated on Sept. 28 at Ira Allen Chapel in Burlington. The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, will serve as the chief consecrator.

MacVean-Brown will succeed the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely, who has served as bishop since 2001 and will retire in October.

The Episcopal Church in Vermont encompasses 45 congregations across the Green Mountain State.

The post Episcopal Church in Vermont elects Shannon MacVean-Brown as 11th bishop appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Kym Lucas consecrated as 11th bishop of Episcopal Church in Colorado

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 11:06am

Kym Lucas was consecrated May 18 as bishop of the Episcopal Church in Colorado. Photo: Episcopal Church in Colorado

[Episcopal Church in Colorado] The Rev. Kimberly (Kym) Lucas was ordained and consecrated as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Church in Colorado on May 18 at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver. Lucas became the first woman bishop as well as the first African American bishop in the diocese’s 132-year history.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry led the service as chief consecrator. The Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, and canon theologian at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, was the preacher. Following the service, a celebratory reception was held on the lawn at Saint John’s Cathedral.

On May 19, the newly consecrated bishop was formally welcomed and seated at Saint John’s Cathedral at the 10:30 a.m. service. Her seating in the cathedra, or bishop’s chair, is symbolic of the bishop’s office.

Lucas was chosen as the bishop during its 131st Annual Convention on Oct. 27. Lucas has served as rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Washington since January 2012. Previously, she was rector of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, from 2005 to 2011.

Lucas grew up in Spring Lake, North Carolina, and received her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Wake Forest University. She received her Master of Divinity, New Testament, at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Lucas and her husband, Mark Retherford, have four children.

Lucas succeeded the Rt. Rev. Robert O’Neill, who had served for 15 years. The Episcopal Church in Colorado was established in 1887 and has approximately 30,000 members across 96 parishes and missions in Colorado.

The post Kym Lucas consecrated as 11th bishop of Episcopal Church in Colorado appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Archbishop Ian Ernest of Mauritius appointed director of Anglican Centre in Rome

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 3:24pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop Ian Ernest, the bishop of Mauritius and former Primate of the Anglican Church of the Indian Ocean, is to become the archbishop of Canterbury’s next personal representative to the Holy See and director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. He will take up his new role towards the end of the year following an official visit to Mauritius by Pope France in September.

Read the full article here.

The post Archbishop Ian Ernest of Mauritius appointed director of Anglican Centre in Rome appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Bishop of Lincoln suspended after information received by Archbishop of Canterbury

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 3:22pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Bishop of Lincoln Christopher Lowson has been suspended from office, following information passed to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby by police.

Welby stressed in a written statement that “there has been no allegation that Bishop Christopher has committed abuse of a child or vulnerable adult.” But Welby said that if the information provided to him was proven, “I consider that the bishop would present a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people.”

Read the full article here.

The post Bishop of Lincoln suspended after information received by Archbishop of Canterbury appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Presiding Bishop joins panel in Massachusetts on Episcopal Church’s ‘big tent’

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 3:17pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, retired Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Barbara C. Harris and House of Deputies Vice President Byron Rushing receive a standing ovation following the April 28 panel discussion at Grace Church in New Bedford. Photo: Bridget K. Wood/Diocese of Massachusetts

[Diocese of Massachusetts] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joined retired Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Barbara C. Harris and House of Deputies Vice President Byron Rushing on April 28 at Grace Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts, for a candid panel conversation about racism and about who is on the inside, who is on the outside and who is still on the margins of the church and society.

The program, “Our Episcopal ‘Big Tent’: How Big is It?” was the culminating public event of Curry’s April 26-29 visit in the Diocese of Massachusetts that included preaching at a “Way of Love” rally on Boston Common and gatherings with numerous ministries, groups and congregations from the Merrimack Valley to Cape Cod.

“I think the reality is we are not as big a tent as we sometimes think. We’re not as small as we once were,” Curry said, in terms of inclusion, “and I suspect that the tension is that we are somewhere between who we actually are, which is a mix. It is a mix. …

“You think the tent is bigger when you’re at the center, but when you’re on the edge, it’s not that big because it doesn’t feel like there’s room for you,” Curry said, adding, “I’ve gotta tell you, it’s work to be a minority in the majority culture, whether that’s racial, or whether that’s gender, or that’s orientation, or whether that’s political.”

Rushing, who is serving a third term as vice president of the House of Deputies and is a former Massachusetts state representative, said it is essential to understand that the call to be a church for everyone is a countercultural idea, given that most Americans still live in segregated communities.

He described growing up in a Bronx, New York, neighborhood where the majority non-black population was Jewish. “And so when I looked around when I was growing up, I thought all Christians were black and all white people were Jewish,” he said.

“The biggest problem of any kind of openness to everybody is that we expect people to arrive some place. And so the people who are in the middle of that place are the most comfortable in that place,” Rushing said. “Sometimes you can be on the edge but you have made a middle for yourself, which is what black people have done in the Episcopal Church. And sometimes even then there is no place where certain people can have a middle.”

Harris, who this year marked the 30th anniversary of her consecration as the first female bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion, said she is “not as sure the tent is as big as we proclaim it to be, or we may have inadvertently closed some of the flaps by which people can meaningfully come in,” she said. “I think for this really to be a big tent we have to more fully live into the words: Come in under the broad umbrella of faith. Period.”

All three shared personal stories of answering a call to act for justice when there was personal or professional risk involved, and all three pointed to Jesus in their closing words of challenge and encouragement for these divided and partisan times.

Harris said she wouldn’t deal in words of woe, but left the audience with this advice: “My mother used to say to me, growing up, ‘Pray to God and ask people.’ So that’s my word of weal,” Harris said. “Pray to God and ask people, and some right will come out of it.”

“I’m with Barbara in this,” Rushing said. “I think most of us in this room could give the woe list real fast. I am convinced that the authority is Jesus. And I am more and more convinced that he is with us for this one reason:  To have us understand that we are all human beings and have to love each other. That there is no love if we can figure out ways of having some list of people that we don’t have to love.”

“Amen and amen to them,” Curry replied. He recalled the previous day’s meeting with young adults in their 20s and 30s. “The only word I can think of to describe it, it was holy,” he said. “They were asking about how do you run the race and keep running, because it’s hard, and opposition within and without is real. And it’s like you say, Byron, you’ve got to keep looking at Jesus.”

“Keep eyes on him, because Palm Sunday is real and everybody’s happy,” Curry said. “And Good Friday is real, and ain’t nobody happy. But Easter’s always coming.”

Video of the full “Our Episcopal ‘Big Tent’: How Big Is It?” program and video of the “Way of Love” rally on Boston Common, are available here.

–Tracy J. Sukraw is director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

The post Presiding Bishop joins panel in Massachusetts on Episcopal Church’s ‘big tent’ appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Anglican college in Pakistan wins legal battle for independence from political interference

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 3:58pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A Pakistan court has ruled in favor of the Church of Pakistan’s attempt to retain independence for an Anglican college in Peshawar, after the moderator of the church took legal action to defend it against a government take over.

Interference in Edwardes College from the governor of Peshawar over the past few months had forced Bishop of Peshawar Humphrey Peters to defend its independence and its governance and budgets from being revised. The court ruling this week blocked the local government’s attempts to interfere in college affairs.

Read the full article here.

The post Anglican college in Pakistan wins legal battle for independence from political interference appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Episcopal grants to help Florida churches, communities still struggling after Hurricane Michael

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 3:26pm

Part of the roof at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Panama City, Florida, is covered in blue tarp Jan. 12 after being damaged in Hurricane Michael. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal congregations in Florida’s Panhandle were approved recently for nearly a half million dollars in aid from the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast and Episcopal Relief & Development to repair their churches and to serve their communities, which are still recovering from Hurricane Michael seven months ago.

The diocese is preparing to distribute a little more than $200,000 to cover repairs and insurance deductibles for eight churches in the region – including one, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Marianna, that just recently got clearance to return to its sanctuary. Because of structural damage, St. Luke’s has been worshiping in its parish hall since the hurricane, diocesan disaster relief coordinator Chris Heaney told Episcopal News Service.

Episcopal Relief & Development approved a $250,000 grant that will be distributed among nine congregations that have ongoing or new ministries serving individuals and organizations as they work to bounce back from the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael.

Central Gulf Coast Bishop Russell Kendrick, in an email to the diocese, also urged Episcopalians to join The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations  in advocating for Congress to pass a long-stalled disaster relief bill.

“This is a concrete way that each of us can be an advocate for our friends living in the wake of Hurricane Michael (as well as many other disasters),” Kendrick said. “This is a way we can do our part to turn up the volume of love and justice.”

Hurricane Michael made landfall Oct. 10 at Mexico Beach with an estimated wind speed of 155 mph. Some residents of Florida’s Panhandle lost everything or nearly everything – trees gone, homes damaged or destroyed, businesses darkened, schools closed, jobs up in the air and the uncertainty of how to press on.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Steve Bates listen to Episcopalians share their stories of Hurricane Michael at a listening session Jan. 12 at Bates’ Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Panama City. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

When Presiding Bishop Michael Curry visited the region in January, he was welcomed by Episcopalians clinging to hope amid the slow progress toward recovery. Roofs were still patched with blue tarps. Piles of debris dotted the roadsides. Holy Nativity Episcopal School in Panama City was a construction zone, and students attended lessons in makeshift classrooms set up at nearby Holy Nativity Episcopal Church.

Curry, speaking to a packed crowd at the church, said he was inspired by residents’ perseverance.

“To hear what you have done and are doing, therein is hope and grace and the power of love,” Curry said.

Cynthia Fuller, dean of students at Holy Nativity Episcopal School, was among those who heard Curry speak that day, and since then she has taken a leadership role in a volunteer group called Michael’s Angels, which advocates on behalf of hurricane victims and their communities. It started when someone posted a call to action on Facebook, Fuller said in an interview with ENS, and that call brought about 75 women to an inaugural meeting in February.

“We were trying to figure out what can we do to help our community,” Fuller said. She was one of six women who stayed after the meeting to plot next steps.

The volunteer women’s group Michael’s Angels leads a rally in April in front of the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee to advocate for federal disaster aid. Credit: Michael’s Angels

She now heads the education subcommittee of Michael’s Angels, with much of her work aimed at helping the large number of students in Bay County schools who are effectively homeless because of the hurricane. Other subcommittees were assigned health care, government relations, development and communications.

Michael’s Angels organized a rally in front of the state Capitol in Tallahassee in April to draw attention to recovery efforts and to put pressure on the federal government to provide disaster money. Fuller said Panhandle residents are frustrated that more than 200 days have passed since their communities were upended by Hurricane Michael, and Congress still has not approved additional aid.

This week, congressional negotiators said they were close to a deal on a $17 billion package of aid for disaster areas in several states, as well as Puerto Rico, the Washington Post reported. A Senate vote could come next week to end a months-long impasse over the funding.

UPDATED ALERT: Disaster Relief Funding! Take action again! Urge your Senators to pass a clean disaster and humanitarian assistance bill! Link: https://t.co/oZzoGrHrJE#EpiscopalAdvocacy pic.twitter.com/fq23UGNScU

— The EPPN (@TheEPPN) May 14, 2019

The Office of Government Relations issued an action alert on May 14 to its Episcopal Public Policy Network, or EPPN, urging members to contact their senators and voice support for the legislation. EPPN noted that one of the stumbling blocks has been the Trump administration’s attempts to add border security funding to the bill.

“Mixing emergency and disaster relief with the Administration’s border policy threatens the ability of our government to respond to the immediate needs of people who are suffering,” the action alert says. “Our nation is long overdue for a serious and thorough reform of our immigration system and policies, but this should not be done while disaster relief is needed.”

Until federal aid arrives, Central Gulf Coast congregations are extending a helping hand in a variety of ways, now with financial backing from the diocese’s newly approved grant from Episcopal Relief & Development.

In Apalachicola, for example, Trinity Episcopal Church was not damaged by Hurricane Michael, but some of its neighbors were hit hard by the storm, Heaney said. Since then, Trinity has offered a daycare ministry to assist families with children who aren’t in school but need child care while parents are at work.

A variety of other ministries also will receive part of the grant money, including food pantries in communities struggling after the hurricane. Those ministries existed before the storm but are in greater demand now, Heaney said. The same goes for Suppers at Grace, a continuing ministry at Grace Episcopal Church in Panama City Beach that has grown to serve storm victims.

Hurricane Michael was “like nothing we’ve ever seen over here, and I hope we never see it again,” Fuller said, and she described the recovery as far from complete. “You can drive down every street and block and see houses that are still sitting there either with a tarp on or half caved in.”

She, her husband and their 12-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter rode out the hurricane while huddled in their home in Calloway, a Panama City suburb, and they feel fortunate for surviving. A tree crashed through the window of their son’s bedroom soon after the family had fled the room to retreat into a bathroom.

Though their house sustained little additional damage, some neighbors’ homes are a total loss. Fuller said local pride has helped the community pull through such turmoil, and she also credits her faith.

“Every day, every single day I pray for strength and courage and wisdom, and then patience,” she said. “It’s definitely strengthened my faith a lot. It had to. I don’t see any other way I would have been able to get through this.”

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

The post Episcopal grants to help Florida churches, communities still struggling after Hurricane Michael appeared first on Episcopal News Service.

Death row inmates’ first-person stories featured in prison ministry’s tour of Episcopal churches

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 2:59pm

“On the Row” is a production of Prison Story Project featuring six actors reading the words of death row inmates in Arkansas. Photo: Kathy McGregor

[Episcopal News Service] An Arkansas Episcopal congregation’s prison storytelling ministry will embark next month on a brief tour, visiting Episcopal churches from Missouri to Texas to stage dramatic readings of death row inmates’ first-person stories.

Prison Story Project, founded by Kathy McGregor at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, spent the summer of 2016 helping 11 inmates write about their lives and the experience of awaiting execution at the Varner Supermax prison in Grady, Arkansas. The inmates’ stories are collected in “On the Row,” a script for six actors. The script’s incarcerated authors also formed the audience for its first performance on Oct. 8, 2016.

Six months later, two of the 11 contributors to “On the Row” were executed by the state of Arkansas.

The executions drew national attention as part of the state’s rush to carry out eight executions in April 2017 before Arkansas’ stock of lethal injection drugs was to expire. Four of the eight men were put to death, while the other four executions were postponed amid vocal opposition from anti-death penalty activists, including Arkansas Episcopalians. The Episcopal Church has long taken a public stance against the death penalty.

Although the executions are referenced at the beginning of “On the Row,” McGregor told Episcopal News Service that the inmates’ words are presented mostly as they were written, before anyone knew of the state’s plans for expedited executions. The script is structured to build a compelling narrative arch, and the stories avoid any overt arguments in favor of abolishing the death penalty.

“We’re not political about that. We just let the words of the inmates speak for themselves,” McGregor said, yet the project seeks to show the humanity behind those words in ways that may surprise listeners. “The audiences should come prepared to feel changed at the end of it,” she said.

The Episcopal Church’s opposition to capital punishment is well established, dating back more than 60 years. General Convention has passed numerous resolutions on the issue. A resolution adopted last year calls for all death row inmates’ sentences to be reduced, orders letters to that effect be sent to all governors of states where the death penalty is legal, and enlists bishops in those states to take up greater advocacy.

Prison Story Project makes clear that readings of “On the Row” are presented in the context of The Episcopal Church’s ongoing advocacy. It is promoting the upcoming tour as “a call to action … for parishes and dioceses to explore and understand the reasons for our opposition; the inequity as applied to minorities, the poor and those who cannot afford adequate legal representation; the contribution to continued violence, and the violation of our Baptismal Covenant.”

The number of executions nationwide has dropped steadily since 1999, from a high of 98 that year to 20 in 2016, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Arkansas is one of 30 states with the death penalty, including all of the states on the Prison Story Project’s four-city tour – Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

The June performances were “the easiest bookings I ever had to do,” McGregor said. The host churches, listed here, didn’t hesitate to open their doors for readings of “On the Row”:

  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City, Missouri, on June 13
  • St. James’ Episcopal Church, Wichita, Kansas, on June 14
  • Christ Church Episcopal, Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 15
  • Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Dallas, Texas, on June 16

St. Paul’s in Kansas City has been active in a range of social justice ministries that emphasize giving a voice to the voiceless in society, the Rev. Stan Runnels said in an interview with ENS, so it seemed natural to host a performance of “On the Row” in the church’s parish hall.

“We believe very strongly in the power of the narrative and the power of the voice of the marginalized to tell their stories better than anybody else,” said Runnels, who is rector at St. Paul’s.

Runnels spent four years in the late 1980s as a volunteer chaplain to death row inmates in Mississippi. He had just recently been ordained as a priest, and he experienced a “deep monasticism” on death row that had a profound effect on his own spiritual growth.

“I found death row inmates to be remarkably honest about some of the deep questions of life and faith and spirituality,” he said. “Because there’s nothing like knowing the day you’re going to die, or the day the state wants to kill you, to grapple with the deep questions of life.”

When McGregor founded Prison Story Project in 2012, her initial focus was on holding writing workshops at a correctional center for women in northwest Arkansas. A second class of inmates in 2013 produced stories that were compiled in a script titled “Stories From the Inside Out,” with performances in the prison and out in the community.

From the start, the hope was that writing would allow the inmates to face the truth of their lives and find redemption, McGregor said. The “outside” performances of the inmates’ words achieved a second goal of giving the public a sense for the real lives of those locked away out of sight.

After several subsequent classes, McGregor and her team turned their focus to death row. They reached out to officials at Varner in 2015, and after months of conversations, they received permission to begin working with death row inmates in May 2016.

“We were a little nervous, but it didn’t take long for us to settle in,” McGregor said.

Out of 34 inmates on death row at the time, 11 volunteered and were selected for the project. McGregor and the project’s creative writing director met with the inmates once a month and followed up by email, giving them prompts to begin their writing and coaching them on techniques. Write from the heart, McGregor told them.

The written compositions were then shared with the project’s theater director, Troy Schremmer, who suggested additional prompts to elicit more detail from the inmates. When Schremmer had enough material, he compiled the inmates’ writings into the narrative that became “On the Row.”

Six actors visited Varner for their first staged reading in front of the inmates, who were separated in individual cells because they are not allowed direct contact with each other, McGregor said.

The first public performances were held at the end of October 2016 at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Additional performances were scheduled in 2017, but McGregor and her team didn’t learn until February that the state planned to execute eight prisoners in 10 days at the end of April.

Four of the “On the Row” writers were among those scheduled for execution. Jack Jones, sentenced for the 1995 rape and strangulation of a 34-year-old woman, was executed on April 24. Kenneth Williams was executed April 27 after killing a university cheerleader in 1998 and then killing another person after escaping from prison in 1999. Last-minute stays of execution were granted for the other two inmates who had worked with McGregor’s team.

The “On the Row” tour in June is backed by several grants, including from the Episcopal Evangelism Society. A second tour is planned for October around Arkansas. In addition, Prison Story Project will record one of the performances for a video that will allow McGregor to hold screenings and question-and-answer sessions without requiring actors and directors to join her each time.

After getting to know the inmates personally, McGregor said she is committed to sharing their stories to all who will listen, “until they abolish the death penalty in every state.”

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

The post Death row inmates’ first-person stories featured in prison ministry’s tour of Episcopal churches appeared first on Episcopal News Service.