Daily Archives: May 19, 2008

Mark I. Pinsky: Lifeline for mainliners

Some of the problems for mainline invisibility might be self-inflicted. “They best stop complaining and take another look at their methods of communicating and organizing,” says the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, a religious liberty organization dedicated to protecting faith and freedom.

“Mainline congregations do not tend to translate their moral convictions into effective political organization and influential social action with the adeptness and passion that characterize evangelicals moving in lockstep with one another,” says Gaddy, who also hosts a show on the liberal Air America radio network. Leaders and activists of mainline denominations might be heeding Gaddy’s advice. Some are raising their profile by reaching out to find common cause with emerging, moderate evangelical churches on issues such as climate change, genocide in Sudan, human trafficking and HIV/AIDS.

Now there is also hope that with the two leading Democratic presidential candidates from their ranks ”” Hillary Clinton, a United Methodist, and Barack Obama, who despite the controversial minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is affiliated with the more moderate United Church of Christ ”” mainliners could have one of their own standard-bearers in the seat of secular power.

Megachurches? Collaboration with evangelicals? One of their own in the White House? Despite low fertility rates and other demographic challenges, mainline Protestantism isn’t fading from the national landscape just yet. In fact, if the budding megachurches are any indication, mainline believers might be hitting their stride, and finding their voice, just in the nick of time.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Episcopal Church (TEC), Evangelism and Church Growth, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian

Southern Cone Anglican Province in legal moves to admit others

The Province of the Southern Cone has begun work to amend its Constitution and Canons to permit parishes and dioceses outside of South America to affiliate with the church.

In an address to the Diocese of Fort Worth on May 3, Presiding Bishop Gregory Venables of Argentina said his province had agreed to accept the diocese of San Joaquin into the South American church as a “pastoral” and interim response to the divisions within the US Episcopal Church. Work was now underway to alter the church’s constitution, removing language that limited membership to dioceses located in South America.

The “Anglican Communion in the United States has been hijacked,” Bishop Venables said, by a liberal clique that is less concerned with theological integrity than with power. They do not “mind what happens as long as they control it,” he said according to a report prepared by the diocese’s communications officer. Bishop Venables told Fort Worth that the question before them was “whether or not you can stand with a group of people who have denied that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible is the Word of God.”

He conceded that the invitation to the Diocese of San Joaquin made following its December decision to quit the Church and affiliate with the Southern Cone was irregular. However, “if we don’t do something,” he said, we would be “complicit” in their oppression.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Cono Sur [formerly Southern Cone], Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts, TEC Departing Parishes, TEC Polity & Canons

New Zealand division over gay policy

Representatives from the seven dioceses of New Zealand offered a cross section of views on the issues of human sexuality, which an official report described as having “varied considerably in their commitment to the Lambeth resolution on sexuality and the proposed covenant.”

However, there was consensus among the New Zealand dioceses that it should remain united in structure while divided over doctrine and discipline. Archbishop [Paul] Reeves noted the debates, which at times elicited strong language, were a symbol of the church’s health. A “sign of our bond of affection is the confidence to argue with each other,” he concluded.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Anglican Provinces, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)

Jason Byasee: Anglican angst in Illinois and Beyond

Last year the Church of the Resurrection in suburban West Chicago closed its doors and put its building up for sale. The Episcopal congregation had suffered membership losses 14 years earlier when some conservative members left to start their own church, also called the Church of the Resurrection, in nearby Glen Ellyn. The new congregation later aligned itself with the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMIA), which is connected to the Anglican Church in Rwanda.

The new Church of the Resurrection later experienced its own split, with some members leaving to launch the Church of the Great Shepherd””also affiliated with AMIA””in Wheaton. The Church of the Great Shepherd eventually closed its doors, but not before a 2004 split led to the formation of the Church of the Savior back in West Chicago. During this time the ranks of St. Mark’s, an Episcopal congregation in Glen Ellyn, had been swelling””until the Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003, whereupon many St. Mark’s members left to form All Souls, still another AMIA church, in Wheaton. Meanwhile, another split at the original Church of the Resurrection in West Chicago, which had experienced renewed growth, led to the creation of the Church of the Resurrection Anglican, a church which is overseen by the archbishop of Uganda. So now there are two Resurrection churches in the area, both formed in exodus from the original””now defunct””Church of the Resurrection, and both affiliated with African Anglican bodies, not with the Episcopal Church in the United States, sometimes abbreviated as TEC.

Got all that?

Even for Anglicans in the vicinity it takes a long memory or a flow chart to keep straight all the Episcopal-Anglican divisions and acronyms that have developed in the well-heeled suburbs of DuPage County, just west of Chicago.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Latest News, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts

New belfry caps restoration effort at western Pennsylvania's St. Mark's Episcopal Church

After raging floodwaters slammed into downtown Johnstown on May 31, 1889, a heavy bell was all that remained of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

On Thursday, with a boost from a crane extending 100 feet skyward, that bell was returned to its rightful place.

The delicate installation of a shiny new belfry marked the culmination of years of fundraising, expert planning and careful craftsmanship.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Parish Ministry, TEC Parishes

New breed of American emerges in need of food

Philomena Gist understands why it hurts so much to be on food stamps. After all, she’s got a master’s degree in psychology.

“There’s pride in being able to take care of yourself,” says the Columbus, Ohio, resident, laid off last year from a mortgage company and living on workers’ compensation benefits while recovering from surgery. “I’m not supposed to be in this condition.”

Neither are many of the 27.5 million Americans relying on government aid to keep food on their tables amid unemployment and rising prices. Average enrollment in the food stamps program has surpassed the record set in 1994, though the percentage of Americans on food stamps is still lower than records set in 1993-95. The numbers continue to climb.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Dieting/Food/Nutrition

Finding, and Refining, a Spiritual Calling

That was why she had come to New York last week. She was among 35 young adult volunteers from faith-based groups around the country selected by the Fund for Theological Education to spend a week meeting clergy in several urban ministries. The fund’s officials hoped that they might be inspired to pursue a similar calling, or at least bring a greater grounding in a higher purpose to their secular careers.

This is not necessarily an easy goal for young adults just out of college, since many of their friends are off making money, while they’re living in small groups working in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

“Their families cannot understand why they’re doing this, because they should be getting a real job or need to pay their student loans,” said James Ellison, who coordinated the program for the fund, an ecumenical organization that seeks to increase the number of Christian scholars and pastors nationwide. “Their friends may admire they’re working with the poor, but they can’t understand this. Coming here, they see it’s not just a few crazy Presbyterians doing this. It gives them a sense that maybe this is not so crazy after all.”

A clear, sobering light filled the dark-wood sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church on West 100th Street. The stained glass windows had been put in storage, replaced by plain glass, which revealed the steel skeleton of a new building rising next door. The windows had been removed to avoid damage from the construction. The Rev. Heidi Neumark, Trinity’s pastor, said the church could not afford to put them back when construction ended.

She sat before the visitors, recounting her decision to be ordained. It was a roundabout process, considering that she was not especially drawn to organized religion. She had worked with the poor in her 20s. She had entered the seminary, thanks to a scholarship from the fund that paid for a year of seminary, no strings attached, for young people considering ordination.

“The church needs to be in those places where people feel outside the church,” she said. “For many of you, the important question is, how dissatisfied are you with the church? The church needs people like you.”

Read it all and make sure to enjoy the picture of Father Earl Kooperkamp .

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology

Clive Crook: How to cure America’s health system

Mr Emanuel proposes a universal healthcare voucher, entitling every citizen to privately-provided insurance, with standard benefits equal to those enjoyed by members of Congress. Insurers would be forbidden to deny coverage to any citizen, regardless of pre-existing conditions. They would be reimbursed by the government with a risk-adjusted premium for every enrolee ”“ taking account of age, sex, pre-existing conditions and other factors using a formula to be determined by a new National Health Board. The system would start by covering the uninsured and those covered by their employers; in due course it would absorb Medicaid and Medicare.

This is not a single-payer plan: competition among insurers and health plans would be crucial to its success. But competition would revolve not around denying coverage by excluding bad risks, but around providing good results. To that end, companies would have to report detailed information on their performance and quality of service.

This is not a new idea. France’s mostly excellent system has similarities. But the presentation of the case has never been so concise or clear. Why then will it get nowhere? Because Mr Emanuel wants his scheme to be financed through a value added tax of 10 per cent, dedicated exclusively to the purpose. This instantly consigns the idea to the realm of the politically impossible ”“ but bear with me a moment longer.

At least consider that Mr Emanuel might again be right. Total spending on health would come down under his proposal….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Health & Medicine

Crises Cloud China's Olympic Mood as Quake Tests Party's Mettle

Eight is an auspicious number in Chinese tradition, and 2008 was supposed to be a joyful year, a time for celebrating at the Beijing Olympics and basking in international recognition of the country’s tremendous progress under the careful leadership of the Communist Party.

It has not turned out that way.

An uprising in Tibet on March 14 focused the world’s attention on the long-festering issue of China’s abuse of human rights. The worldwide Olympic torch relay, conceived as a “journey of harmony,” turned into a magnet for protest, embarrassing Olympic organizers, angering nationalistic Chinese and souring the mood for the Beijing Games.

And now a violent earthquake has devastated a broad patch of central China, particularly here in mountainous Sichuan province, killing up to 50,000 people. The scale of destruction is so vast — and the horizon for a return to normalcy so distant — that it is difficult to imagine a carefree crowd in Beijing when the Games open Aug. 8.

The clouds over 2008 have not only darkened prospects for a celebratory Olympics. They have compromised what was shaping up as a golden opportunity for President Hu Jintao and other leaders to rally support among China’s 1.3 billion people for continuing the party’s monopoly on power indefinitely.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Asia, China, Sports

First-Time Novelists Make a Splash on the Web

After Marisha Pessl finished her first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, she got to work on a side project: Calamityphysics.com. The Web site is a companion piece to the book, designed as a window into the life ”” and dorm room ”” of the young protagonist, Blue van Meer.

Visitors can pick up objects, zoom in on pictures and newspaper clippings, visit Blue’s MySpace page or unfold a map of the Great Smoky Mountains, where the story takes place. A distracting June bug buzzes around a bright blue desk lamp.

“What we really try and do is ”¦ deliver the unexpected right up front, to just capture the immediate reaction of an audience and hopefully engage them enough that they’re curious to continue poking further,” says Mark Ferdman, the creative director of Freedom Interactive Design, the company that built the site.

Read or listen to it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Blogging & the Internet, Books

For writer Ron Hansen, faith isn't taboo

Best-selling novelist Ron Hansen stood in the nave of St. Vincent de Paul Church on a recent afternoon under the towering stained-glass windows. Illuminated by the high sun in the western sky, the brightly colored glass told story after story””about Jesus Christ, about prophets and saints, about miracles and revelations.

The Catholic faith is a story-telling religion, the writer said a short time later. “The mass itself is a kind of theater, dramatizing the life of Christ,” he said.

The Bible stories Hansen heard in church as a young Catholic boy were central to his decision to follow the vocation of writer, he said. Now 60, the author is widely respected for his fiction and essays despite going against the grain in the literary world by being upfront about his faith.

Hansen was at St. Vincent de Paul to do a reading from his newly published novel “Exiles,” which tells the intertwining stories of 19th Century Jesuit priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, five nuns who died in the 1875 wreck of the steamship Deutschland and the poem Hopkins wrote about them.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Poetry & Literature, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

Obama camp spies endgame in Oregon

Pitching his message to Oregon’s environmentally-conscious voters, Obama called on the United States to “lead by example” on global warming, and develop new technologies at home which could be exported to developing countries.

“We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” Obama said.

“That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen,” he added.

The Illinois senator also argued that the differences between his healthcare plan and that of Clinton “pale in comparison to the differences we have with John McCain,” whose proposals would only work “if you’re healthy and wealthy.”

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Time Magazine Cover Story: The Next President's Economy Problem

In the waning minutes of his only TV debate with Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980, Ronald Reagan looked straight into the camera and asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

It was a defining question of the campaign ”” and of late 20th century American politics. It was also pretty easy to answer. The “misery index,” a then popular measure that added the unemployment rate to the inflation rate, had skyrocketed during Carter’s tenure. Taxes had risen sharply. There were other issues on voters’ minds, like the Iranian hostage crisis and those dang cardigans Carter used to wear. But the economy was crucial to Reagan’s victory. After taking office, he responded by ushering in a new era in economic policy ”” cutting tax rates, slashing regulation and tirelessly preaching the gospel that individual Americans were better suited to make economic decisions than bureaucrats in Washington were.

This election year, the economy is again at the forefront of voters’ minds. The misery index is no longer the problem; at 9% and change, it’s miles below the 20% of late 1980. But Americans have a new menu of economic woes ”” among them a real estate crash, a credit crisis, a broken health-care system and nagging job insecurity. Poll after poll shows a vast majority convinced that the economy and the country are headed in the wrong direction.

The first and most obvious thing to be said is that this represents a big stumbling block for Republican John McCain. He’s not the incumbent, so the “four years ago” line doesn’t apply directly to him. But history shows that slow economic growth is among the best predictors of a change in party control of the White House ”” and right now the economy is barely growing at all.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, US Presidential Election 2008

Notable and Quotable for Trinity Sunday

While our friends from India traveled around California on business, they left their 11 year-old daughter with us. Curious about my going to church one Sunday morning, she decided to come along. When we returned home, my husband asked her what she thought of the service.

“I don’t understand why the West Coast isn’t included too,” she replied. When we inquired what she meant, she added, “You know, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the whole East Coast.”

–Ann Spivack in Reader’s Digest

Posted in * General Interest, Humor / Trivia

Poll: Rural Voters Not Reliably Republican in 2008

Overwhelming support in the nation’s least populated counties was key to Republican victories in the last two presidential elections. But a new bipartisan survey indicates rural voters are not so reliably Republican in 2008.

The poll indicates that Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, cannot count on rural voters to provide him a winning margin in the November presidential election. Double-digit margins in places beyond cities and suburbs are credited with giving President George W. Bush his margins of victory in 2000 and 2004.

In head-to-head match-ups, the rural voters surveyed split evenly between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican McCain. Each garnered 46 percent of the rural vote in the poll.

That’s a stunning reversal for Clinton, who rated as unpopular as “illegal aliens” in a similar rural survey done just last year.

Read or listen to it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008