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Incense in doubt as loss of Boswellia trees leads to global shortage of frankincense

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 3:45pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] A global shortage of frankincense could threaten the production of church incense which some traditions use during worship as a visible sign of prayers ascending to God. The aromatic resin, used to produce incense, comes from Boswellia, a genus of trees and shrubs from the Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula and India. According to a report in a sustainability journal, there is a danger frankincense supplies will collapse after researchers found the Boswellia trees are being destroyed by cattle farming, drought and conflict.

Read the full article here.

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Translation work completed on world’s first Tokelauan Bible

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 3:41pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The world’s first Bible in Tokelauan is being prepared for publication after the final verse of the new work was translated July 10. It marks the culmination of more than 23 years of work by a team of translators led by head translator Ioane Teao.

Tokelauan is a Polynesian language spoken in Tokelau, on Swains Island in American Samoa, and parts of northern New Zealand.

Read the full article here.

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Anglican Communion’s secretary-general says education is key to peaceful communities

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 3:39pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Education and joint activities across different faiths will help move some of Nigeria’s most divided communities away from hatred and fear, according to the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion Josiah Idowu-Fearon.

“Education is the weapon that we must all be willing to use in our efforts to live in peaceful coexistence with one another. And that is why this institution is important,” Idowu-Fearon said speaking at the graduation of students from Kaduna Centre for the Study of Christian-Muslim Relations in Nigeria.

Read the full article here.

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Church of North India marks 50th anniversary with golden year of celebration

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 3:37pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Church of North India will be using its 50th anniversary this year to review, consult and then re-set its mission priorities for the next 10 years as thousands of people come together from around the country. Starting in November 2019, the golden jubilee to mark the formation of the united Church in North India, will include a year-long celebration including programs, processions, consultations and events.

Read the full article here.

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Episcopal officials defend refugee resettlement after report Trump officials suggest halt to program

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 1:55pm

Syrian refugee Ahmad al Aboud and his family members, on their way to be resettled in the United States as part of a refugee admissions program, walk to board their plane in Amman, Jordan, in 2016. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Trump administration officials reportedly have discussed the option of reducing refugee resettlement to zero in the next federal fiscal year, a move that critics warn could devastate the long-term resettlement capabilities of Episcopal Migration Ministries and the eight other agencies with federal contracts to do that work.

A final decision on resettlement numbers isn’t expected until September – the fiscal year starts in October – but Politico’s July 18 report on the administration’s discussions prompted Episcopal Church officials to affirm the church’s support for the resettlement program and warn against halting it.

“Welcoming the stranger is a core tenant of our faith. Episcopalians around the country in our churches and faith communities stand ready to welcome and embrace refugees,” said the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the Presiding Bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church.

His quote was released as part of a statement from Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM, that urged the Trump administration to return refugee resettlement numbers to historical norms after the sharp cuts of recent years. The ceiling for refugee resettlement was lowered to just 30,000 this year, down from 85,000 before President Donald Trump took office in 2017.

Reducing the ceiling to zero would parallel other policy moves the Trump administration has made to curtail both legal and illegal immigration, after candidate Trump made a hardline approach to immigration a cornerstone of his winning election bid. This week, his administration announced restrictions on protections for asylum seekers, turning away most of those who would arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum. That plan faces legal challenges.

“In light of the recent asylum restrictions, these reports of the administration admitting zero refugees next year are extremely concerning and indicate an attempt to curtail any humanitarian pathways to protection,” Lacy Broemel, policy adviser for The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, told Episcopal News Service in an email. “It’s critical that Episcopalians speak out to their members of Congress to oppose such policies.”

Office of Government Relations has an advocacy page on its website devoted to the refugee resettlement program, and it issued a statement of concern this week in response to the asylum restrictions.

The Politico report is just the latest development to add to the ongoing uncertainty that Episcopal Migration Ministries and other refugee resettlement agencies face in the Trump era. It wasn’t clear until late last fall that all of those agencies’ contracts would even be renewed to help the State Department resettle refugees fleeing war, persecution and other hardships in their home countries.

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf, left, kisses her father, Khaled, as her mother, Fattoum, cries after arriving at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in February 2017. Photo: Reuters

EMM has resettled more than 95,000 refugees since the 1980s, providing a range of services for these families upon their arrival in the United States, including English language and cultural orientation classes, employment services, school enrollment and initial assistance with housing and transportation.

The agency finally received word on Nov. 30, 2018, that the State Department would renew its contracts with all nine agencies, but with the ceiling down to just 30,000 for the year, much of that work already had been reduced. EMM once oversaw 31 resettlement affiliates in 26 dioceses, but now that number is down to 13 affiliates in 11 dioceses.

At a meeting of federal security officials last week, a representative from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suggested lowering the cap to zero, Politico reported, citing unnamed sources who were familiar with that plan. The immigration official and a second official, from the State Department, reportedly argued such a plan was justified by refugee security concerns, adding that protections still would be available through the asylum process.

Homeland Security officials raised the possibility of lowering the cap to 10,000 or as low as 3,000, Politico reported, effectively maintaining only the barest of resettlement programs. An official with Church World Services, one of the nine resettlement agencies, told Politico that such cuts would have long-term negative effects.

“It would mean that the capacity and the ability of the United States to resettle refugees would be completely decimated,” said Jen Smyers, a Church World Service director.

The Department of Defense, in the past, has defended the resettlement program, citing the example of Iraqi refugees who were resettled in the United States after assisting the American military in Iraq. Politico reported former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had advocated keeping the ceiling at 45,000 refugees.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has been vocal in recent months supporting refugees and compassionate immigration policies. He issued a plea to “welcome the stranger” in a video released in June for World Refugee Day, and this week, he released another video message referencing Christian teachings and scripture in lamenting the humanitarian crisis on the United States’ southern border.

Curry, in Panama for Evento Jovenes Episcopales, told ENS on July 19 that he hoped the Politico report was not true.

“But if it’s true, it’s wrong,” Curry said, invoking the symbol of the Statue of Liberty to counter anti-refugee sentiments. “We can be better than this. I know that we can be better than this. We have been, and we must find a way. … America must become America again.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org. Managing editor Lynette Wilson contributed to this report.

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Episcopal-supported NGO empowers Guatemalan teenagers to take charge of their sexual and reproductive health

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 5:01pm

The Guatemala Youth Initiative’s Byron Paredes, sexual and reproductive health educator, and Alison Urbina, program assistant, lead a workshop of sexual and reproductive health for middle school students. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Guatemala City, Guatemala] Eighteen-year-old Ubelia watched as each of her four sisters became a teenage mom. As the fifth and youngest daughter in the family, she didn’t want to follow in the same path. But other than her father offering general “be safe” advice, she didn’t feel she had the education or the information to make informed choices regarding her own reproductive health and pregnancy prevention.

Enter the Guatemala Youth Initiative, a nongovernmental organization founded by Episcopalian Greg Lowden with support from others in The Episcopal Church, especially the Diocese of Virginia, wherein Lowden grew up attending Leeds Episcopal Church in Markham, 60 miles west of Washington, D.C.

“This program saved my life,” said Ubelia, her black hair tied in a tight bun on top of her head, a butterfly earring in each earlobe. “I didn’t know how not to end up like them.”

With 92 out of every 1,000 girls ages 15-19 giving birth, Guatemala has one of the highest adolescent birth rates in Latin America, which as a region ranks second in the world.

Worldwide, 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth daily in developing countries; that’s 7.3 million births annually, according the United Nations Population Fund. The pregnancy rate is even higher when factoring for unviable pregnancies; and each year, tens of thousands of teenage girls die from pregnancy complications and childbirth.

Students at Safe Passage, an NGO that provides educational and other services to at-risk youth living near Guatemala City’s trash dump, affix labels to a diagram of male reproductive anatomy during a Guatemala Youth Initiative workshop. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Lowden founded the Guatemala Youth Initiative in 2013. It empowers youth to make responsible sexual and reproductive health decisions by providing comprehensive sex education workshops in schools; training teen leaders as peer sex educators; and increasing access to family planning services, which are technically available through government-funded healthcare but not always easily accessible.

“Guatemala is a country that has fallen far behind in comprehensive sexual education, contraception and early childhood development compared to the rest of Latin America,” said Lowden. “Sex education and contraception are very much taboo subjects in Guatemala, based on the fear that they will incentivize youth to have sex. Despite contraceptives being available, most contraceptive providers have cumbersome processes for adolescents that make it unlikely for them to seek help.”

Ubelia’s father repairs radios, and her mother works seasonally selling Christmas ornaments. One of her sisters sells candy on a “chicken bus,” as Latin Americans call decommissioned school buses used for public transportation, while the others depend on their husbands. In November, Ubelia will become the first in her family to graduate high school, a special school for secretarial skills.

“I never want to depend on a man for anything; with my diploma I can get a job,” said Ubelia, identified here only by her first name to protect her privacy.

Ubelia’s family lives near the Guatemala City trash dump in a marginalized community that struggles with extreme poverty, family brokenness and crime. When Ubelia, now a peer sex educator, first encountered the Guatemala Youth Initiative during a workshop organized by another NGO providing educational services, a third girl in her social circle had just given birth. As studies show, when a girl becomes pregnant and gives birth, her education and job opportunities diminish.

“In underprivileged communities, most young girls who become pregnant are not able to continue their studies. They suffer social stigma, especially if the father [of the child] doesn’t ‘take responsibility,’ said Lowden. “Before, we saw many cases where the teen mother was either completely dependent on the father or finding a new man. Now, with access to contraception and support programs, we are seeing that pattern change.”

Along with education and contraception, the Guatemala Youth Initiative operates a program for teenage mothers, teaching parenting skills and providing support and community. Teen moms often lack parenting skills, and caring for a baby often means new moms spend a lot of time home alone.

The Guatemala Youth Initiative focuses its work in Zone 3, one of 18 squatter communities surrounding Guatemala City’s trash dump. Residents live side by side in cement-block and sheet-metal homes constructed along narrow walkways bleached by the sun. An area the size of 40 football fields with room for expansion, the trash dump receives two-thirds of the country’s refuse. It’s the largest trash dump in Central America and employs 10,000 workers, the majority laboring six days a week from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., making $5 a day.

Guatemala City’s trash dump is the largest in Central America and employs 10,000 workers, most of whom labor six days a week, 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., for $5 a day. Most of its workers and their families live in extreme poverty in 18 squatter communities surrounding the trash dump. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The dump began operating in the 1950s after the government stopped incinerating trash. In some cases, generations of families have worked there while living in the surrounding communities. Others, fleeing rural poverty, continue to arrive in search of work.

The working and living conditions in the area have attracted the attention of charitable organizations including 30-some NGOs that provide daycare, educational, health, and counseling services to workers and their families.

“The communities around the Guatemala City trash dump are some of the most marginalized urban communities in the entire country,” said Lowden.

“Youth have virtually no access to information about sexual and reproductive health, and even less support for contraception and teen pregnancy,” he said. “We decided to focus on these areas after finding that approximately half of adolescent girls (or more) are becoming teen mothers near the trash dump.”

That finding came through a deliberate evaluation of the communities’ needs. Rather than duplicate services, Lowden, who’d previously worked for an NGO and studied child abuse rates on the ground in Guatemala, decided to conduct a six-month survey of 300 students, teachers, parents and psychologists to understand the problems facing at-risk youth.

Family dysfunction surfaced as the number one problem, which leads youth to spend most of their time away from home in the streets, and to drug and alcohol use. The survey also found that half of the children in the communities were born to teen moms; nearly half of teenagers ages 15-19 were sexually active, with many having multiple partners; and, that the majority of sexually active teenagers used no contraception.

Parents’ long hours working in the trash dump and an absence of a home structure, combined with poverty and the other challenges of living in a high-crime, marginalized community, mean that sometimes the only affection youths receive is from one another, which often leads to sex.

“If you spent your childhood in a dysfunctional household without love, you are going to look for anything that resembles it,” Lowden said. “Most youth at-risk find it through sex during adolescence when the first guy or girl shows them affection.”

The Guatemala Youth Initiative’s Byron Paredes, sexual and reproductive health educator, and Alison Urbina, program assistant, lead a Saturday class of peer sex educators in an exercise that compared the same sexual histories of a male and female teen to reveal inherent biases that applaud behaviors in males and condemn the same behaviors in females. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

At the initiative, Byron Paredes, a sexual and reproductive health educator, and Sophie Swallow, a youth coordinator, have created a secular and a biblical version of the program, the latter making it more appealing to parochial schools. The Roman Catholic and evangelical churches keep a tight grip on society. Still, as teen pregnancy rates soar, society recognizes the need for sex education and easy access to contraception.

Understanding consent, and females understanding that they are in control of their own bodies, also are part of the message, said Swallow. “They are in control of what their future will look like.”

On a June morning, 35 co-ed middle-school students wearing navy blue T-shirts with the words “hope,” “education” and “opportunity” printed on the back in large white letters, gathered in Safe Passage’s school cafeteria for a workshop. On the gray and white concrete wall, facilitators hung four posters depicting male and female anatomy, contraceptive methods and sexually transmitted infections. The workshop began with students shouting out in Spanish the anatomical parts: cervix, fallopian tubes, vagina, penis, testicles, vas deferens.

“We read all the parts of the anatomy and scream them so they know we’re not going to be uptight or squeamish,” said Swallow, as the workshop began.

“I can’t hear you: ‘vagina,’” she shouted.

Understandably, there’s some laughter. And to make it fun and competitive, the facilitators divide the students into two self-named teams. The teams then race to pin prepared construction-paper labels on the corresponding female and male reproductive organs.

The Guatemala Youth Initiative’s Byron Paredes demonstrates how to use a condom properly during a workshop offered to middle school students at Safe Passage. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Swallow and Paredes spent a year editing the workshop and learning how to communicate critical information quickly. Beyond anatomy and the male and female reproductive systems, workshop participants learn about consent, contraceptive methods, IUDs, implants, birth control pills, condoms and STIs. Using a wooden anatomical model, facilitators demonstrate how to put on a condom correctly.

“Condoms are the only method that protect against STIs,” said Paredes, and as he and Swallow both point out, their use requires consent from both parties.

When Paredes isn’t conducting workshops, he consults with clients one on one, answering teens’ questions and providing them with birth control; in some cases, he also consults with their parents, who may also be seeking knowledge about and access to contraception methods.

Swallow – who once transported a carry-on bag full of 3,000 condoms from the United States to Guatemala – admits that when she joined the initiative’s staff, she herself lacked adequate sex education and that Paredes educated her.

“Lack of sexual education is not a Guatemala problem, it’s a global problem,” said Swallow. “I am also a young woman who grew up in an education system that ignored sexuality. Unguided sexuality is a root problem across the globe, and it’s only more dangerous in marginalized communities like Zone 3. Avoiding the topic puts young people at great risk.”

Before joining the Guatemala Youth Initiative’s staff, Swallow, a student on leave from Middlebury College in Vermont, volunteered at a nearby school that closed abruptly. Through connections, she met Lowden; coincidentally, they both grew up in The Episcopal Church. Swallow grew up attending St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina.

From left, the Guatemala Youth Initiative’s Alison Urbina, Byron Paredes and Sophie Swallow walk back to the initiative’s office following a workshop for some 30 students at Safe Passage, a nearby school. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Despite being only 20 years old, Swallow, and Paredes, who is 28, know that peer sex educators are key to running a successful program. Ubelia, for instance, has become an expert, and fellow students at her all-girls school approach her for advice and information, and to correct misinformation. Like when a peer asked her if using contraception would lead to infertility, Ubelia answered, “no.”

The Guatemala Youth Initiative has trained more than 30 peer sex educators, and these teens often go beyond the basics into more profound discussions. It’s the teen sex educators who also refer their friends and peers to Paredes for one-on-one consultations.

“Local youth are perhaps the best suited to educate their peers in topics of sexual and reproductive health. Adolescents are much more likely to confide in one another, and if we arm local youth with correct information and resources, they can take the reins,” said Swallow. “Not only can they explain technical concepts, they can also empower their peers to take control of their futures. By training local youth in reproductive health, we give the power back to the people who need it most.”

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

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Order of the Holy Cross will close monastery and retreat center in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 4:57pm

Mt. Calvary Monastery and Retreat Center, home of the Santa Barbara, California, branch of the Order of the Holy Cross, will close permanently in May 2021, according to Prior Adam McCoy. Photo: Diocese of Los Angeles

[Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles] Mt. Calvary, the monastery and retreat center of the Order of the Holy Cross in Santa Barbara, California, will close in 2021, ending more than 70 years of ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles, according to a July 11 letter from Prior Adam McCoy to OHC associates and supporters.

The directive to close the monastery came from Br. Robert James Magliula, superior of the order, and stemmed less from financial need than from the dwindling number of monks available to staff the retreat center. OHC members at the Santa Barbara facility are Brother Will Brown, who just turned 94, Brother Thomas Schultz, who is 85, and McCoy, age 72.

As quoted by McCoy, Magliula wrote, “At our annual Chapter [meeting] in June we had frank discussions around the fragility of some of our houses and the need to focus our attention on the Order, which is overextended in four locations and three countries. The frailest of the houses is Santa Barbara. The three brothers there have done an admirable job at living the life faithfully and carrying on an extensive guest ministry. This has been accomplished, despite less-than-optimal conditions of age and health, under Adam’s leadership.

“Directed by the Chapter to make a long- and short-term plan, the Council has decided to close Mt. Calvary Monastery no later than our Chapter in 2021, and withdraw from the Diocese of Los Angeles. We have ministered in Santa Barbara and on the West Coast since 1947. At this point in our history, it is just not sustainable to maintain four houses. This is especially true with a growing number of elderly brothers who would be better served in our Assisted Living, which will be expanded in West Park,” the order’s New York headquarters.

McCoy emphasized that the monks will honor their existing retreat commitments and that their staff have pledged to remain with the monastery until it closes. “Through the end of December 2020, we will continue to function as we have,” he wrote. “From Jan. 1 through Sun., Feb. 14, 2021, we will welcome both individuals and groups. During Lent, beginning with Shrove Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, we will welcome individuals only. After Easter, April 4, we will close to retreatants and begin the necessary work to be able to move out by May 31.

“There will be many opportunities for us to share personally over these coming 22-plus months,” McCoy continued. “There will also be several public celebrations of OHC’s more than 70 years of ministry. I pray that we will all take the time to give thanks to God for the incredible blessing Mount Calvary has been, in so many ways for so many people and for so many years.”

“Hearts all over the diocese are saddened by this news,” said Bishop John Harvey Taylor of the Diocese of Los Angeles. “Mt. Calvary is a place of welcome, fellowship, prayer, deep silence, and profound learning. As with the Order of the Holy Cross, our first priority is the care of Brs. Adam, Will, and Tom as well as the lay employees. As for what happens at Mt. Calvary after mid-2021, we look forward to conversations with OHS and other potential partners about what might be possible.”

“My heart hurts as I imagine this beautiful place no longer available to us,” Sister Greta Ronningen, a monk of the Community of Divine Love, San Gabriel, told The Episcopal News. “I’m surely not alone. I have been leading annual yoga and silent retreats there for the last nine years. I will miss dropping into the prayer life of my big brothers and eating the delicious food of our beloved Louis. I will miss sharing a meal with the brothers as they weigh in with joy and wisdom. Nothing can or will replace the sense of a home away from home that I feel when I arrive there.”

The future of the monastery property has not yet been determined. The brothers moved their residence and retreat ministry to the present site next to the old Santa Barbara mission after a devastating fire in 2008 destroyed their scenic Spanish colonial-style monastery, which had been in operation since 1947. Although they first hoped to rebuild on that site on a bluff overlooking Santa Barbara, the projected cost was deemed to be prohibitive, and the property was sold.

“This is what happens. Change happens,” said Ronningen. “And we can only accept with grace what was undoubtedly a difficult decision. We can hold our memories like jewels in our hearts as they are our treasure. We can pray for the brothers as they approach the changes ahead.”

Holy Cross, an Anglican/Episcopal Benedictine order, was established in 1884 and is centered at its monastery in West Park, New York. Other monasteries are located in Toronto, Canada, and in Grahamstown, South Africa.

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World Council of Churches invites all to support Global Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 9:37am

[World Council of Churches] The World Council of Churches invites all people of goodwill to observe a Sunday of Prayer for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula on Aug. 11.

Each year, Christians are invited to join in a prayer for peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Prepared by the National Council of Churches in Korea and the Korean Christian Federation, the prayer is traditionally used on the Sunday before Aug. 15 every year.

Read the full article here.

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New Hampshire prison softball league connects Episcopalians and inmates in ministry of presence

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 5:11pm

The Diocese of New Hampshire softball team poses for a photo July 16 outside the state’s Correctional Facility for Women in Concord before the team’s final game of the season in a league with a prison team. The league’s coordinator, Dan Forbes, is on the left, and standing next to him is Bishop Robert Hirschfeld. Photo: Dave Deziel/Diocese of New Hampshire

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians may be familiar with Jesus’ assurance that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Members of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Goffstown, New Hampshire, also know this: Two or three, however devout, are not enough to field a softball team.

Whether they bring two, three or a full squad of nine or more players, the Episcopal softball team led by St. Matthew’s parishioner Benge Ambrosi gathers several times each summer in Jesus’ name to play against inmates at the state’s prison for women in Concord. If the visiting team is short on players, the prison team is big enough to provide a few substitutes.

“It’s a ministry of presence. It’s a ministry of companionship,” said Ambrosi, who also works for the Diocese of New Hampshire as chief operating officer and canon for mission resources.

He told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview that the players keep the conversation lighthearted, and the games are well attended by fans – those fellow prisoners who are able and available to come watch. A recent game drew about 50 inmate players and fans, at a prison that typically holds between 100 and 200 inmates. “It’s a big social event for the crowd there,” Ambrosi said.

Ambrosi coaches two teams: one from St. Matthew’s and one whose players come from around the diocese, which is based in Concord. Each team plays two games at the prison, officially known as the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women. The games are part of a larger league that includes four secular teams, including one from the local prosecutor’s office.

The New Hampshire women’s prison team, shown in a 2013 Concord NH Patch photo, played at a detention facility in Goffstown before moving in 2018 to a new prison in Concord. Photo: Tony Schinella/Concord NH Patch

St. Matthew’s has been involved since the league started in 2002. Back then, female prisoners were held at a facility in Goffstown, near St. Matthew’s, and parishioner Barbara Carbonneau coached the congregation’s team. She handed the reins over to Ambrosi a few years ago but still plays. When she turned 83 on July 11, the inmates joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to her on the field.

“They have fun when they’re out there, and we enjoy being there,” Carbonneau told ENS. “It’s just a good time, and it’s a good way to [encourage] Christian fellowship.”

Carbonneau picked up the nickname “Barbed Wire” a few years ago, and the prisoners have an unofficial rule on their team: No one is allowed to get Barb out.

Dan Forbes, a social work professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, organizes the league and serves as volunteer coach of the prisoners’ team. He said in an interview with ENS that the prison team’s pitcher once made the mistake of fielding a ball and throwing Carbonneau out at first.

“My own team booed my pitcher for doing it,” he said.

New Hampshire Bishop Robert Hirschfeld has been known to step into the lineup on the diocesan team, as he did July 16 at the team’s season finale. Hirschfeld’s predecessor, Bishop Gene Robison, devoted a five-page chapter in his 2008 memoir to describing his ministry among the women of the prison, including participation in their softball games.

“Let me tell you, these women play softball!” Robinson wrote. “It’s as close to a near-death experience as I ever hope to have. I fell over my own feet a few times and left the scene dirty and bloody. But I also fell in love with these women.”

Prison softball basically looks like regular softball. The field resembles other ballfields, except the outfield fence is topped with razor wire. The prison provides the equipment. Visiting teams are allowed to bring in only their gloves, hats and sunglasses. All other personal items are left with the guards before passing through security.

After walking through a series of secured doors, the visiting team ends up on the recreational yard, which includes the ballfield. The prisoners join them, and the teams spend 10 to 15 minutes warming up, Ambrosi said. Team colors have changed over the years, with the prisoners going from purple to the current red. The Episcopal teams’ shirts now are blue.

The blue shirts also feature the team’s motto: “Safe at Home With God.”

The visitors bat first. A prisoner who Ambrosi guesses is in her 60s serves as the official scorekeeper. There are some familiar faces year after year; other prisoners are released before making it to their second season.

Conversations between the visitors and the prisoners focus mainly on the game, sometimes including the weather. While other Episcopal ministries offer pastoral support for prisoners, that is not the purpose of the softball games, Ambrosi said.

“It’s more of a friendly ministry,” he said. It also gives his players a brief opportunity to get to know the prisoners. “I don’t think that the everyday Joe in our churches has a lot of exposure to people that are incarcerated, and we might have a different perception of the type of people they are.”

In fundamental ways, Ambrosi said, they aren’t much different from the Episcopal players.

As for athletics, the inmates reveal themselves to be softball players who have had ample time to practice. “They play hard. They’re really good,” Ambrosi said before recounting a tough recent loss, 24-23, to the prisoner team.

The games are played in the evening and last up to two hours. There are no strikeouts. Home runs are common, but the coaches advise against them. Too many home runs over the razor-wire fences and the teams won’t have any balls left to play with, Forbes said.

Forbes, at 65, has many years of experience both supporting the prison – he once served on its advisory board – and coaching softball. As with the teams he used to coach when his daughters played the game, his prison team ends its games by lining up opposite their visiting opponents for hand slaps and expressions of sportsmanship.

“Softball is life,” he said, explaining the sport can teach lessons in teamwork, patience and building relationships.

One prisoner told him she wanted to learn the game so she could play catch with her son once she got out. Another had no interest in the game but joined the team just because it was her only way to get time outside in the recreation yard. Prison life can be “soul-suckingly boring,” Forbes said.

Because of inmate classifications, no one convicted of violent crimes is out on the field during the games, Forbes said, but he rejects arguments that such activities, for any inmate, are inappropriate in a setting intended as punishment for a crime. Those critics are seeing prisoners “strictly from an ideological point of view,” he said, “a distorted belief system.”

Many of the inmates he coaches are struggling to turn their lives around after years of trauma on the outside, he said, and nearly all of them someday will become former inmates. For them to succeed when they return to the world outside, they need to learn how to build positive relationships, Forbes said.

The softball games help.

“The women understand that the community doesn’t reject them,” he said. “The [civilian] players understand that these women are not horrible people. It just really changes up how people feel about other people.”

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

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Anglican Church of Canada suffered a deficit in 2018; dioceses ‘struggling’ to meet financial commitments

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 4:04pm

[Anglican Journal] A fall in revenues, especially contributions from the dioceses, combined with increased expenses to put the Anglican Church of Canada in a deficit position in 2018, General Synod heard Monday, July 15.

The national church’s audited financial statements for the year show that overall revenue was $11.1 million, down by $800,000— 7% —from 2017, Fraser Lawton, bishop of the Diocese of Athabasca and a member of the financial management committee, told General Synod. But expenses were $11.8 million — $400,000 more than the prior year, he said, citing rounded figures from the statements.

Read the full article here.

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Prayer for reconciliation with the Jews passes first reading at Canada’s General Synod

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 3:53pm

[Anglican Journal] An effort to remove a prayer for conversion of the Jews from the Book of Common Prayer and to replace it with one for reconciliation with the Jews has passed its first major hurdle at General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.

On July 15, a resolution to amend Canon XIV passed its first reading at the 42nd General Synod. The amendment would delete prayer number four in “Prayers and Thanksgivings upon Several Occasions” from use and future printings of the prayer book, and replace it with a prayer entitled “For Reconciliation with the Jews.”

Read the full article here.

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DC church mixes spoken word and social justice with ‘Prophetic Poetry Slam’

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 1:58pm

LaTonya Merritt performs at All Souls Episcopal Church’s Prophetic Poetry Slam in Washington, D.C., on July 13, 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/ENS

[Episcopal News Service ­­– Washington] The litany that could be heard at All Souls Episcopal Church on the evening of July 13 was an unfamiliar one.

“Homeless?” came the call.

“Not hopeless,” the people responded.


“Keep me focused.”

This wasn’t a liturgical service, and the woman on the stage in the church basement wasn’t a priest. Her name was LaTonya Merritt, and she was a performer at the church’s first-ever Prophetic Poetry Slam.

“Dirty clothes, smelling bad / sleeping on the streets, digging in the trash can for food / that’s all you see,” she recited from memory. “How ‘bout: I have a job, sleep in my vehicle. / That homeless person / is me.”

With commanding confidence, she interspersed the story of her journey out of homelessness with that same call-and-response she’d taught the audience at the beginning of the poem, echoing the theme of relying on God in desperate times.

This event, unlike most poetry slams, wasn’t a competition; no judges assigned scores to the 10 performers. It did, however, feature the passionate, socially conscious spoken-word poetry that slams are known for, with a special focus on spirituality.

All Souls has hosted a monthly poetry night since 2018. Photo: Egan Millard/ENS

All Souls is focusing on the intersection of faith, art and social justice as a way to reach out to the surrounding community. Tucked into the lush Woodley Park neighborhood – which borders both the Establishment influence of Kalorama and the diverse immigrant enclave of Adams Morgan – the church is something of an intersection itself.

“This is a part of the outreach that we are doing to the broader community,” said Brian Smith, the church’s Christian formation leader. “We’ve really made a concerted effort to reach out to our neighborhood in general and bring people into church for different reasons.”

Last year, Smith started a monthly poetry night “to explore the art of poetry as a devotional spiritual practice.”

“All Souls has a tradition of religion and the arts,” Smith said. “There have been other poetry groups that met here in the past. So we’re kind of carrying that on.”

Smith said that the intimate monthly gathering succeeded in bringing in people “who would never have gone to church” otherwise.

“We took a summer hiatus to regroup and plan out the next program year,” Smith said, “but then we realized, we have to do something this summer. It was the rector’s idea to do a poetry slam … We wanted to infuse a little bit more energy into the experience of poetry for people who may or may not be familiar with the slam style.”

So where does the “prophetic” element come in?

“It’s a very prophetic moment we’re experiencing right now,” Smith explained. “People are speaking out; they’re very passionate.”

And though the topics – particularly the racist rhetoric embraced by President Donald Trump and his administration’s hostility to immigrants – may be new, the Christian response isn’t.

“Return to the law, return to love. … That’s what the prophetic tradition is about, in a way: new expressions of old truths.”

So the poetry slam, with its tradition of speaking truth to power, seemed like the perfect way to harness the passion of a community that increasingly feels the need to speak out against injustice. That hasn’t always been easy for All Souls, said the Rev. Jadon Hartsuff, who has served as rector since 2016.

“We are here in Washington, D.C., we are surrounded by political issues, and we are a parish that is full of people who work in government … so this has long been a church that has very intentionally stayed clear of hot-button political or social justice issues just because people have wanted church to be a respite,” Hartsuff said.

Ironically, that attitude came about in part because All Souls was an early pioneer in one particular hot-button issue: accepting queer parishioners.

A custom-made sign greets visitors at the door of All Souls. Photo: Egan Millard/ENS

“All Souls was the first church to have an openly gay rector in this region. So the primary issue that the church felt like it was engaging was the issue of welcome to the LGBT community. So with that being its flagship issue, it wanted to avoid all the other issues that might divide people who were otherwise being united around that issue, because it ended up being a place where gay men and women from very different political backgrounds came together.”

But by 2016, the situation had changed, with LGBTQ people gaining widespread acceptance in The Episcopal Church and Trump upending the political and moral landscape of America.

“In the last few years, there’s been an increasingly large minority of people here who have been interested in some kind of more active, more pronounced engagement of social justice,” Hartsuff said. This led to a monthly multi-parish social justice forum, and the July 13 Prophetic Poetry Slam was intended to forge a connection between that and the monthly poetry series.

“We’re trying to test the waters and see what happens,” Smith said before the event.

What happened was a mix of personal and political, painful and healing. With rhymes ringing off the walls, the first poet poured out her anguish over her sister’s death, wondering what God’s purpose could be.

Laurel Blaydes sang a cappella of the struggle to persevere in the face of disillusionment:

“I can see by the look in your eye / that you feel like your leaders mislead you / and you’re tired of delusions and lies / But I can also see / that you didn’t stop there / You have moved to take the vision of the future / way beyond despair,” she sang.

Laurel Blaydes gets ready to sing at All Souls Episcopal Church’s Prophetic Poetry Slam. Photo: Egan Millard/ENS

LaTonya Merritt, in addition to sharing her story of homelessness, performed a piece that pointed out the ironic dichotomies in American society: poverty and conspicuous consumption, homelessness and gentrification, “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.”

Other performers spoke of feeling judged in church and the guilt of judging others, struggles with learning disabilities and incarceration, and the gap between what Jesus left unsaid and what he did say. Inspired by the trending Twitter hashtag #thingsJesusneversaid, one poet wondered how anyone familiar with the Gospels could be confused about how Jesus would react to fossil fuel emissions polluting the air and jeopardizing the survival of humanity. Jesus, he said, never talked about oil, “never spoke of dinosaurs, giant lizards / sinking into the rocks, becoming a liquor for our society … He didn’t have to.”

vEnessa Acham reads Joy Harjo’s “Ah, Ah.” Photo: Egan Millard/ENS

Not everyone performed their own work. vEnessa Acham read “Ah, Ah” by newly inaugurated U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, the first Native American to hold the post. And Calvin Zon read a series of revolutionary poems by Robert Burns, Pablo Neruda and Bertolt Brecht, ending with Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again.”

The performers were evenly split between regular parishioners and people from outside the parish. That’s because All Souls invested in highly targeted Facebook ads to advertise the slam.

“We have an active, two-week-long Facebook ad for this event that is focused on young adults who have expressed on their Facebook profile that they have an interest in either poetry or social justice,” Hartsuff said.

Those ads are funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment administered through nearby Wesley Theological Seminary’s Innovation Hub. The program aims to connect activist millennials in Washington with local churches through engaging, collaborative projects. The Innovation Hub provides training, research and support, in addition to the grant funds.

For Hartsuff, the effort is as much about getting a new image of the church out there as it is about the event itself.

Myke Gregoree performs an original piece. Photo: Egan Millard/ENS

“We have been trying to create and present different kinds of events that … twenty-somethings who don’t go to church might see and be surprised that a church was offering,” Hartsuff said. “And even if they didn’t come to it, it would begin to shift their understanding of what our church and maybe the church at large is doing,” Hartsuff said.

The investment in Facebook ads paid off. Myke Gregoree, who hadn’t been to All Souls before, said he came across the event on Facebook and “it seemed like it was up my alley. … It definitely was the name that spoke out to me and it made me feel welcome.”

Merritt, also a first-time visitor to All Souls, had the same experience while scrolling through Facebook.

“I was like, ‘OK, that looks like something interesting,’” she said.

Both Merritt and Gregoree expressed interest in coming back when the regular monthly poetry night returned. And most people lingered long after the slam ended, talking over wine and snacks about the power of catharsis. There were knowing nods, exchanges of email addresses, and a sense that All Souls was a little bigger than it was a few hours before.


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

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Children affected by opioid epidemic invited to supportive summer camp in Diocese of Maryland

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 9:31am

[Episcopal News Service] The opioid epidemic in the United States continues to affect millions of Americans, with tens of thousands every year dying from overdoses, and some of the most vulnerable to the epidemic’s effects are the users’ children and other young family members.

The Episcopal Church’s Province III, which includes many of the communities hit hardest by the rise in opioid addiction in recent years, is partnering with the Diocese of Maryland’s Claggett Center and the SpiritWorks Foundation to offer a free weeklong summer camp, Camp Spirit Song, in support of children struggling with a parent’s or loved one’s addiction.

“Some of the kids think it’s their fault, and if they behave better, mom or dad wouldn’t do that,” said the Rev. Jan Brown, an Episcopal deacon and founder of SpiritWorks, a Virginia-based addiction recovery support organization. One message of Camp Spirit Song will be that it’s not their fault, Brown told Episcopal News Service.

“The hope with this is they will feel safe, and … they’ll know that there are other people going through this too,” she said.

The camp is open to children in grades 4 to 8, and space still is available for new registrations. Held at the Claggett Center in Buckeystown, Maryland, it will follow a curriculum for children of addicted parents that was developed through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Anyone interested in info on registering a child for Camp Spirit Song should visit the center’s website or email ryoe@claggettcenter.org.

“Camp Spirit Song creates a setting in which children can participate in meaningful, compassionate group sessions which honor their experiences and inherent worth, while enjoying all the opportunities that summer camp provides for kids to be kids,” said Rita Yoe, the Claggett Center’s programs coordinator, in a news release.

The idea for the camp grew out of conversations between Claggett Center officials and members of the Province III Opioid Response Task Force. Province III encompasses 13 dioceses in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, and it has been active in developing educational and outreach programs in response to the opioid crisis, including a recent pilgrimage to Huntington, West Virginia, to witness that community’s progress.

Dina van Klavern, co-chair of the Province III task force, previously served as director of the Claggett Center’s summer camps through 2014, and she also had gotten to know Brown, who serves on the task force and is a deacon at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.

“She has mentioned and described a need since we began this task force to bring back a camp for families torn apart by addiction,” van Klavern said.

SpiritWorks Foundation offered its own camp for children affected by addiction several years ago at Airfield Conference Center, near Wakefield, Virginia. Photo: SpiritWorks Foundation

SpiritWorks, which Brown started in 2005, offered such a camp years ago but was not able to keep it going. Then last year, van Klavern learned that the Claggett Center would have an open week in its summer camp schedule for 2019, and she and Brown began talking with center officials about offering a curriculum for children affected by addiction.

Their goal was to identify at least 15 and up to 40 campers to participate, with outside donations covering the cost of the camp for families. Registration so far has been slow, but van Klavern and Brown hope in the coming weeks to find additional children from across the province’s dioceses who would benefit from the program. It will include a strong spiritual component, though participants need not be Episcopalians.

“Anyone who’s really had their world turned upside down by heroin and opioid use,” van Klavern explained. What the camp offers is “a place of healing and safety, a place without any discrimination and stigma for the family and the child.”

The trauma associated with a family member’s opioid use can have a profound negative effect on children. Prenatal opioid exposure and the upheaval of foster care sometimes play roles, but parental opioid use itself is considered a traumatic event for children, according to a report by the National Academy of State Health Policy.

“Children affected by parental substance use are at higher risk of behavioral and psychosocial problems,” the report says. Such trauma also is “strongly associated with a wide range of negative consequences for health and well-being later in life, such as chronic health conditions, risky behaviors, lower academic achievement, and early death.”

The report, geared toward influencing state policies on the opioid epidemic, recommends developing a “whole family” approach. Such an approach is affirmed by the curriculum to be used by Camp Spirit Song.

“The entire family can be strengthened, their stress levels reduced, their resilience enhanced, when services are provided to these children,” a forward to the curriculum says.

Brown brings personal experience to this work. She is 32 years into her own long-term recovery from addiction, including to prescription painkillers. In recent decades, she has lamented the rise nationwide in opioid and painkiller addiction and the toll it takes on families. Its effects are distinct from other types of addictions, such as alcoholism, she said.

“The intensity is one piece that’s changed, and just how dangerous,” she said. “People are leaving pills hanging around, and young people are finding them.” She noted some describe the epidemic as “a disease of despair, and these young people are growing up in households where there is no hope.”

She sees Camp Spirit Song, then, as a “wonderful opportunity” to show that faith communities can make a positive difference in these children’s lives.

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

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Peace forum concludes, ‘There must be no more war on the Korean Peninsula’

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 2:17pm

[World Council of Churches] An Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reunification and Development Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula, held 10-12 July in Bangkok, Thailand, has issued a communique that reiterates calls for peace and outlines possible steps toward renewed dialogue.

The forum drew 46 participants from 11 countries, including delegations from the Korean Christian Federation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and from the National Council of Churches in the Republic of Korea.

Read the full article here.

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Anglican Church of Canada grapples with pain after same-sex marriage vote, with new developments possible

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 2:10pm

Lyds Keesmaat-Walsh, delegate from the Diocese of Toronto, weeps in the immediate aftermath of a July 12 vote on a motion to amend the Anglican Church of Canada’s marriage canon. The motion, which would have allowed for same-sex marriage in the church, failed to pass by a few percentage points in the Order of Bishops. Photo: Milos Tosic/Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal – Vancouver, British Columbia] “Our children are crying.”

That was how Primate Fred Hiltz — paraphrasing the observation of delegate Michael Chartrand — described the pain in the room following the failure of the 42nd General Synod to pass a resolution amending the marriage canon, which would have allowed for the solemnization of same-sex marriage.

“Those words are going to haunt the Anglican Church for a long time,” says Sydney Brouillard-Coyle, a youth delegate from the Diocese of Huron who identifies as gender non-conforming, queer and asexual. Though members of General Synod had long been preparing for upheaval after the vote on July 12 no matter the outcome, when the results finally came, the anguish it caused for LGBTQ Anglican youth almost defies description.

Read the full article here.

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Anglicans in Canada elect Linda Nicholls as first woman primate

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 9:13am

“We have deep healing to work at. And I know that this church can do it,” Linda Nicholls, bishop of the diocese of Huron and primate-elect of the Anglican Church of Canada, told General Synod shortly after voting results were announced Saturday, July 13. Photo: Milos Posic

[Anglican Journal] Linda Nicholls, bishop of the diocese of Huron, was elected 14th primate of the Anglican Church of Canada on July 13, becoming the first woman in the history of the church to hold the position.

“You have bestowed on me an honor that I can hardly imagine, and it is terrifying. But it is also a gift, to be able to walk with the whole of the Anglican Church of Canada from coast to coast to coast,” Nicholls said in a brief impromptu speech on her arrival, after the vote at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, where the election was held.

Read the full article here.

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Marriage canon amendment fails to pass Canada’s General Synod

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 9:08am

Primate Fred Hiltz and officers of General Synod share a tense moment of silence before results are revealed. Photo: Matthew Townsend

[Anglican Journal] The Anglican Church of Canada will maintain its traditional definition of marriage after a vote to amend the marriage canon failed to pass at General Synod 2019.

The 42nd General Synod voted against Resolution A052-R2, which would have amended the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriage, after the resolution failed to pass by a two-thirds majority in all three orders. While two-thirds of the Order of Laity (80.9 percent) and Order of Clergy (73.2 percent) voted in favor, less than the required two-thirds (62.2 percent) voted in favor of the resolution in the Order of Bishops.

Read the full article here.

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In Canada, indigenous self-determination measures pass in nearly unanimous vote

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 9:04am

National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald is blessed by Primate Fred Hiltz as he receives a metropolitical cross upon the formation of a self-determining Indigenous Anglican church. Photo: Milos Tosic

[Anglican Journal] In an historic vote, General Synod decided almost unanimously July 12 to approve changes to Canon XXII that enable a self-determining indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada, and to bestow the title of archbishop upon National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, a position which now ranks among the metropolitans.

The vote was the culmination of a morning of presentations by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Vision Keepers, the council of Indigenous elders and youth established at General Synod in 2016 to monitor how the church would honor its commitment to adopt the framework of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Read the full article here.

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Canadian archbishop reflects on achievements and ‘serious questions’ about future at General Synod

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 4:12pm

Archbishop Fred Hiltz. Photo: Milos Tosic/Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal – Vancouver, British Columbia] In a wide-ranging address to General Synod on Thursday, July 11, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, outgoing primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, spoke of what he saw as some of the church’s most important recent accomplishments and priorities, as well as the challenges likely to face his successor, who will be elected Saturday, July 13.

Hiltz, who has led the church as primate since 2007, opened General Synod’s first day of business with a speech dealing with the themes of discipleship; the Indigenous church and reconciliation with Indigenous people; human trafficking; climate change; ecumenism and interfaith relationships; same-sex marriage; and the need for his successor to keep the church together in the aftermath of a potentially divisive vote on the marriage canon while facing an “alarming” decline in church membership.

Read the full article here.

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