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Peace-building art exhibition seeks to unite East and West

By Episcopal Journal

ankh-with-girlA contemporary art exhibition built on the theme of the ancient Egyptian symbol of the ankh opened in New York on Sept. 21, the United Nations International Day of Peace.

The exhibition, titled “The Key,” showcases the work of 40 Egyptian, Middle-Eastern and Western contemporary artists using a modern 3D fiberglass portrayal of the ankh, the hieroglyph known as the “key of life,” as a means of engendering unity among people of different cultural heritages and faith backgrounds.

“It’s the canvas for a contemporary message of hope for a harmonious, peaceful and tolerant world,” said the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal priest who is founder and president of CARAVAN, an organization that employs the arts as a peacebuilder among the creeds and cultures of East and West. “The Key,” already seen by thousands in Cairo and most recently in London at St. James, Piccadilly, will remain at New York’s historic Riverside Church, a stronghold of peace activism over the decades, until Nov. 6.

Highlights for July and August

Who owns a gift to the church?

The Rev. Mark Stanley

By Solange De Santis

The May issue of Episcopal Journal contained an Episcopal News Service story about St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore, which was auctioning some extremely valuable items in order to endow a scholarship for African-American students to attend St. Paul’s Schools in Brooklandville, Md.

The story prompted reader Ed O’Brien to write, criticizing the church’s initiative. Episcopal Journal followed up the story, examining the liturgical items online at the auction house’s website, viewing the sale prices and contacting St. Paul’s co-rector, the Rev. Mark Stanley, for his perspective. The Journal also contacted O’Brien for permission to publish his letter.

The Alex Cooper auction house in Towson, Md., conducted the auction of 15 silver items, including a jewel-encrusted chalice and a silver offering plate, which brought $45,000. The auction brought St. Paul’s a total of $75,000 and the church funded the remainder of the $300,000 scholarship fund from its endowment, according to Stanley.

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Lambeth to focus on science, climate change

Some Lambeth services will be held at Canterbury Cathedral. Photo/Antony McCallum/WyrdLight.com

By Mark Michael

The relationship between faith and science and the church’s response to the environmental crisis will be “big picture” themes at next summer’s Lambeth Conference, which focuses on being “God’s Church for God’s World”.

The conference’s communications office featured the issues in a series of short films released in early June, including a special release of “How is the Church Engaging with Science in Responding to Environmental Issues” on June 5, World Environment Day.

The Anglican Communion also announced the foundation of the Anglican Communion Science Commission, a group of scientists and theologians from across its 41 provinces who will equip Anglicans “for courageous and confident spiritual leadership in issues involving science.” The commission will be formally launched at next summer’s Lambeth Conference and hopes to have its first conference shortly thereafter.

For the whole story:

 

Kelly Latimore: Iconographer of a new “imago dei”

“Mama,” 36 x 48 in., 2020 All paintings gouache and gold leaf on board. Photos/courtesy of the artist

By Pamela A. Lewis

Any lingering ideas we might hold about artists who paint — or, more precisely, write — icons quickly disappear when we meet iconographer Kelly Latimore and his large body of work. The affable 34-year-old suburban Chicago native (now living and working in St. Louis) does not align with the image of an elderly monk bent over a panel and silently and reverently applying pigment or gold leaf to the sacred face he is depicting. Latimore is transforming old notions about icon writing with regard to what or whom should be represented.

In contemporary usage, the words “icon” and “iconic” have come to denote objects and people who have assumed a larger-than-life, emblematic status. But the fundamental definition of “icon” remains unchanged: image. Not merely an artwork, the icon has traditionally been a sacred image used in religious devotion. Most commonly a painting (although they have been produced in other media), the icon has its roots in the Eastern Orthodox church, as well as in the Roman and certain Eastern Catholic traditions.

Describing himself as a “Baptist preacher’s kid,” Latimore acknowledges that his personal background stands in contrast to the icon’s history and tradition. Although he was “always drawing and painting,” he had no acquaintance with the art form, yet had always connected with the arts as a vehicle for creating things which he deemed beautiful. Serious study of art took root during his years attending Greenville University in Greenville, Ill., where he learned about different genres, artists, and techniques.

After completing his university studies, Latimore moved to Ohio, where he met a couple who had started the Good Earth Farm, supplying food for pantries. Subsequently, he encountered a community called the Common Friars, centered on the monastic way of life and prayer from the Book of Common Prayer three times a day.

The new relationships he cultivated in this community, as well as learning about how to care for the earth, inspired Latimore to readjust his spirituality, from one which had been, in his words, more about “personal transcendence,” to being “up there with God,” to a consideration of how we care for the earth as Jesus did. The “lilies of the field” was the subject of his first icon.

Left, “Mary Oliver,” right, “John Lewis,” 12 x 16 in., 2019

Latimore began icon writing at Common Friars. He has enlarged the genre’s scope, informed by a wide range of artistic influences, such as Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, and Alice Neel, and strongly focused on relationships, community, and social justice.

Given his experience as a farmer, connecting to the land has been very important to Latimore, and in many of his icons, he gives equal attention to the surrounding landscape as he does to the figures occupying it.

It is not simply a decorative background, but an element that interacts with and comments on the human subjects (such as “La Sagrada Familia”). Earth, sky, and vegetation are strongly delineated, impelling the viewer to engage with the totality of the icon, instead of solely on the subjects. Latimore’s handling of the background is a decided departure from writing traditional icons, where that pictorial element is rendered in gold (symbolizing the celestial realm), and the figures and their garments are pigmented.

“The Good Shepherd,” 20×24 in., 2019

Having grown up in a primarily-white environment and church community where he did not see or interact with people different from himself, Latimore has set out to fill those gaps by making visible in his icons those whom society has chosen to keep invisible. In that regard, the artist has peopled his icons with a different type of sacred figure, literally and figuratively drawn from the full spectrum of humanity.

This new imago dei comprises disparate public figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., the late Senator John Lewis, author Flannery O’Connor, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and Oglala Sioux Holy Man Nicholas Black Elk.

By today’s lights, these were the “envelope pushers,” who challenged the prevailing social order and protested injustice. To Latimore, these are people “who have connected the word ‘Christian’ (even if they were non-Christian, non-believers, or whose racial attitudes were not necessarily evolved) with the liberation of the poor. They lived lives of presence. They were not focused on being holy; they were focused on being present.”

These are not the canonized saints of the church, whose sainthood was determined by miracles of extraordinary healings, but by bringing justice to those who had been deprived of it. Regardless of faith or creed, Latimore gives all of the figures in his paintings a gold nimbus (halo) to signify sainthood.

Icon purists have not been pleased with Latimore’s iconographic choices, and many have denounced his work. Ironically, most of the threats have come from Eastern Orthodox individuals in Russia and Ukraine, according to Latimore.

“La Sagrada Familia,” 12 x 16 in., 2016

Reactions have been especially strong to two paintings in particular: “Refugees: La Sagrada Familia” (2016) and “Mama” (2020). “Sagrada” was inspired by the story of a young Guatemalan man who told Latimore about his struggle to come to the United States, and of the remains of women holding babies he had seen along the way.

The family in this icon refers simultaneously to the New Testament account of the Holy Family fleeing state terrorism and to the countless refugees from Guatemala and other Central and South American countries fleeing terror, yet seeking refuge in an America whose tone sounded anti-immigrant and anti-stranger.

Soon after the murder of George Floyd, Latimore painted “Mama,” as a way to mourn the man whose brutal death was seen around the world. The artist has written it in traditional icon style, and arranged the figures as a latter-day pietà, where a Black Madonna holds her dead son, whose likeness is unmistakably that of George Floyd. (When asked whether the son is George Floyd or Jesus, Latimore always answers, “Yes.”)

Whereas the Madonna would normally look at her son, the artist shifted her gaze to the viewer. This subtle shift moves the focus outward, establishing a community of mourners who may reflect on what they have witnessed and act to prevent its reoccurrence. In some places, protesters displayed the image as they marched.

Some have also questioned whether a white male artist such as Latimore should represent people of color in religious paintings, to which the artist responds that white artists have been painting Christ as white for centuries, when the truth is that he was in all likelihood a person of color.

“Racism,” says Latimore, “is the denial of the Incarnation; the image of God is within all of us. In my interactions with other congregations and clergy of color, they are looking for other ways to represent Jesus. This is what it means to be human and to be present.”

There is growing concern that in the so-called “post-Christian” West, which is witnessing declining church attendance, creating religious art such as icons may be a futile activity. Latimore strongly believes that the church can participate in movements against war, racism, hunger, and poverty, and that it can be a “living, breathing, visible community of faith, which is but another word for ‹learning›. The main task of the church is the formation of people who love where it hurts.”

Based in New York, Pamela A. Lewis writes about topics of faith.

Highlights for June

Indiana Episcopalians open state’s first LGBTQ youth shelter

A ribbon-cutting ceremony opens Trinity Haven. Photo/courtesy of the Diocese of Indianapolis

Diocese of Indianapolis

Even before the ribbon was cut to officially open Trinity Haven, Indiana’s first residential facility for LGBTQ youth and young adults who are at risk of homelessness, two people were living in the house.

“As soon as we announced our opening date, young people began contacting Trinity Haven,” says Leigh Ann Hirschman, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, Indianapolis and founding president of Trinity Haven’s board of directors.

“Because they knew they would be imminently homeless. So, our opening is something to celebrate, but it has also been poignant to see how real this is; to see this need and to put faces on the need, and to watch the project move into reality.”

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Shakespeare’s musings on religion require deep listening to be heard

William Shakespeare

By Anthony D. Baker, The Conversation

William Shakespeare’s role as a religious guide is not an obvious one.

While the work of the Bard has been scoured at various times over the past four centuries for coded messages about Catholicism, Puritanism or Anglicanism, the more common view is that his stunning explorations of humanity leave little space for serious reflection on divinity. Indeed, some Shakespeare scholars have gone further, suggesting that his works display an explicit atheism.

But as a scholar of theology who has published a book exploring Shakespeare’s treatment of faith, I believe the playwright’s best religious impulses are displayed neither through coded affirmations nor straightforward denials. Writing at a time of great religious polarization and upheaval, Shakespeare’s greatest pronouncements on faith are more like curious whispers — and, like whispers, they require deep listening to be heard.

For the whole story:

In North Texas, Episcopalians take a deep breath

 

A previous service at All Saints Episcopal Church before the property was removed from the congregation. Photo/Courtesy of Diocese of North Texas

By Katie Sherrod

Sherrod

Let’s talk about what makes a “real church.”

In 2008, the former bishop of this diocese and many diocesan leaders left the Episcopal Church to become part of another church. They left because they refused to ordain women and to welcome out LGBTQ people into the full life and ministry of the Church, claiming their interpretation of Scripture was the only right one.

But even though they left the Episcopal Church they continued to claim Episcopal Church property and the name “Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.”

At that time, many Episcopalians in this diocese were forced out of their Episcopal church buildings because they wanted to remain a part of a loving, inclusive church instead of realigning with another church.

They had to find new places to worship. These congregations of displaced Episcopalians were creative and courageous, and they found worship space in unusual places such as storefronts, in wedding chapels, in a woman’s club, in a theatre, in a social service agency. And in those unusual spaces, they created holy spaces that were, and remain, “real churches.”

In 2021, as the result of the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear our cases, the judgment of the State of Texas Supreme Court was allowed to stand. The Texas state court decided it has the right to decide who is the real Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, and so the state decided it was the group who left the Episcopal Church in 2008.

So, April 19, 2021, Episcopalians who had remained in six of our buildings were forced out of their historic church homes and forced to find new places to worship. And they have done so.

They are worshiping in spaces offered by Lutheran, Methodist, and Disciples of Christ churches as well as in the chapel on a church school campus, the back room of a real estate office and in an office building on a college campus.

And just so we’re clear — all of them are worshiping faithfully in holy spaces that are “real churches.”

Yes, it’s heartbreaking to be forced out of beloved church buildings. Yes, it’s sad to lose lovely stained glass windows, needlepointed kneelers, and sanctuaries filled with memories of baptisms, weddings, funerals, graduations, ordinations, confirmations, and perhaps most of all, the weekly ritual of worship with the glorious liturgies that shape and feed us all.

But here’s what we’ve learned — holy spaces can be created just about anywhere. Set up a table, get a cup and a plate, bread and wine, gather faithful people with a priest who begins “God be with you,” — and there it is. A real church.

It happens again and again and again. The ancient words are spoken, the people respond, and the Holy Spirit shows up. Every damn time. People here have never tired of that miracle.

We aren’t yet sure what’s next. We are still a bit in shock, we are still trying to get used to a new and different name, to new and different locations, and we are all pretty tired of having to explain why the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth isn’t part of the Episcopal Church anymore, and why all those ACNA buildings with Episcopal Church still in their names are NOT Episcopal churches aligned with the Episcopal Church.

We do know this, however. We are held in the arms of a loving God who is always present with us, in traditional stone churches, in back rooms, in store fronts, in school chapels, in theatres, in all the places we gather in our beautiful, unusual, and creative “real churches.”

Thanks be to God.  

Katie Sherrod is communications director of the Episcopal Church in North Texas.

North Texas Episcopal parishes plan new locations

Episcopal Journal

Six congregations in what is now known as the Episcopal Church in North Texas are sorting out worship locations after being evicted by a breakaway group affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA.

Congregants at All Saints’ Church in Fort Worth gather for worship, prior to the pandemic. Photo/Katie Sherrod

The U.S. Supreme Court in February declined to hear an appeal by the Episcopal Church’s Fort Worth-area diocese of a state court ruling [see the story in the April Episcopal Journal], leaving more than $100 million of diocesan property in the hands of the ACNA’s Diocese of Fort Worth. The court’s decision not to hear the case settled what had been a 12-year legal battle.

In 2008, a majority of clergy and lay leaders in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth voted to leave the Episcopal Church over disagreements about the ordination of women and LGBTQ people. The breakaway congregations continued to occupy their buildings.

Most congregations that remained in the Episcopal Church found new places to worship after the split, but six congregations in Fort Worth, Hillsboro and Wichita Falls, remained in their buildings.

Since February, the Fort Worth Episcopalians and members of the breakaway group have been going through the buildings in preparation for the transfer. Like the rest of the dozen-year dispute, that’s been “a fairly complicated, fraught process,” said Katie Sherrod, the Episcopal diocese’s director of communications.

The breakaway group is using the name Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, though it is no longer a diocese of the Episcopal Church. The congregants loyal to the Episcopal Church are using the name Episcopal Church in North Texas.

One of the parishes, All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, is moving to the chapel at All Saints’ Episcopal School. Another, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Hillsboro, has been using the back room of a real estate office and plans to move into another commercial building, Sherrod said.

Some of the churches had not held indoor services for a while because of the pandemic. St. Luke’s in the Meadow in Fort Worth had been holding outdoor services and had just begun the process of reopening the building for socially distanced worship when the eviction order came.  

This story was prepared with files from Episcopal News Service.

Highlights for May

New York cathedral’s art exhibit is a meditation on ‘sanctuary’

Eric Gottesman, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” 2018. Photo/Courtesy of St. John the Divine Cathedral

By Episcopal Journal

An art exhibit at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York examines ideas of welcome and refuge.

On billboards facing the street, artists Eric Gottesman, Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratelo, and Paola Mendoza and Kisha Bari comment upon concepts of borders, immigration, family separation and the vulnerability of youth.

The works were exhibited in “The Value of Sanctuary,” an indoor and outdoor event that was open from Feb. 14 to June 30, 2019. The outdoor billboards, however, are still on view and will be indefinitely.

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Jesus, Paul and the border debate — why cherry-picking Bible passages misses the immigrant experience in ancient Rome

Eugène Delacroix painted “Ovid among the Scythians.” Exile was a common Roman punishment, as the poet Ovid found out. Photo/Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia

By Rodolfo Galvan Estrada III
The Conversation

Immigration reform is back on the agenda, with Congress taking up major legislation that could usher in a pathway to citizenship for millions of people living in the U.S. without legal status.

This, and an increase in migrants crossing the southern border to the U.S., has seen many people retreat to two common positions on the issue. Advocates for reform generally emphasize the history of America as a nation of immigrants. Meanwhile, opponents draw to the identity of America as a nation based on the rule of law, with a sovereign right to protect its borders.

Given the role that Christianity plays in many Americans’ lives and in politics in general, it shouldn’t be surprising that people from the religious right and left draw from the Bible to support their immigration perspectives.

For the whole story

A reflection on anti-Asian violence

Stop the hate against Asians posters from rally in Summit NJ, March 27. Photo/George Lou/Wikimedia Commons

By Allen K. Shin

Suffragan Bishop Allen K. Shin of the Diocese of New York wrote this message on March 18 to the people of the diocese after a number of violent incidents, including the March 16 mass shooting in Atlanta that included eight Asian-Americans.

Shin

My Brothers and Sisters,

The pandemic this past year has brought many challenges in our lives both personally and collectively.

One thing it has brought to light is the virus of white supremacy and racism which has infected the soul of America for centuries.

It has played out in racial inequalities with a devastating effect on the lives of the people of color in marginalized and underprivileged communities, in terms of COVID infections and deaths, of economic hardship, and even of the vaccine rollouts.

The killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many other African Americans have revealed the insidious nature of the racist structures and systems and of white supremacy in our society.

During the pandemic, we have also seen a dramatic surge of hate crimes against Asians across the country, particularly against the elderly and women. An 86-year-old man from Thailand died after being shoved to the ground in San Francisco. A Filipino man was slashed with a box cutter on the subway in New York City.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a 56-year-old Malaysian man was pushed to the ground and punched in the face on a subway station. Most recently, eight Asians were murdered by a gunman in Atlanta, six of whom were women.

While the overall crime rate has declined from 2019 to 2020, hate crimes against Asians have increased 150%. Since March last year, 3,800 anti-Asian hate crimes have been reported, with 68% of the victims being women.

Violence against Asians is not new. We have seen this before in this country.

The massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming from Harper’s Weekly 1886, Vol. 29. Photo/Wikipedia/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

The “yellow peril” sentiment of the 19th century fueled many violent incidents against Chinese communities. The Chinese massacre of 1871 resulted in the Chinatown of Los Angeles being ransacked and 20 Chinese men being lynched and hanged.

Those who attended the 2019 Diocesan convention saw the play “Red Altar,” which told the story of the massacre of the Chinese fishing village in Monterey Bay. The village was burned down, and the Chinese people were lynched or driven out.

When the bubonic plague broke out in 1900, the Chinatown in Honolulu was burned down by a mob and the Chinatown in San Francisco was quarantined off so that no Chinese were allowed to leave but were left to die while the white residents were allowed to leave.

The U.S. government also played a role with the enactment of anti-Asian policies such as the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917, and the Japanese Internment of 1942.

As an Asian-American bishop, I am mindful of bringing too much attention to Asian concerns and issues lest people see me as a bishop only for Asians. But I can no longer remain silent. I feel compelled to speak up against the rising anti-Asian hate crimes in our communities.

It has been conveyed to me that the members of the Church of Our Savior in Chinatown (New York), many of whom are elderly, are feeling anxious and living in fear. I cannot express how deeply it hurts and saddens me.

In the fall 2020 edition of the Episcopal New Yorker, I shared a personal experience of being harassed and called “China virus” by a biker as my wife and I were taking walks in the nearby park. I have been called by racist epithets and told to “go home” many times before. Never have I felt so fearful for my life as I have felt this past year.

Despite the fear and anxiety, however, one thing I have learned in this pandemic is to be grateful for life and not take it for granted. I have learned the joy of being alive through simple things.

Easter this year feels so much more meaningful because of that. I have learned the power of gratitude, compassion, and justice.

So I ask for your prayers of solidarity and of compassion and justice for the Asian brothers and sisters in your communities. I ask you to reach out to them with a word of encouragement and comfort.

I ask you to stand up against all forms of racial violence and hatred in our society as I and many other Asians stand with African American brothers and sisters in their continued struggle against the systemic racism and the culture of white supremacy just as the Asian leaders marched alongside the African American leaders in the Civil Rights movement.

Racial justice and healing will be the unavoidable focus of the Church’s mission in the post COVID time. I refuse to let fear take over my life and hatred destroy my faith in the goodness of humanity.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the life-giving power of the crucified Christ. Love is the way of the Cross, and love will win over all hatred. Won’t you join me and stand up against the racist and xenophobic violence that is destroying our common life and humanity?

 

The Bishop of New York, Andrew M.L. Dietsche, and Assistant Bishop Mary D. Glasspool issued this statement of support.

Our dear brothers and sisters,

Over the last year Bishop Shin, our brother Allen, has shared with us some of the incidents of Anti-Asian bias, discrimination, and hatred with which he and Clara have lived during the pandemic. He has shared with us the fear they sometimes have had to feel just by being in public.

These private, intimate narratives have revealed to us the pain which they both have felt in a time when Asians have been scapegoated for a global pandemic which far transcends in scope the blaming or assigning of fault to anyone.

What is clear is that the pandemic has served as a kind of license for racists to give voice to, or to express violently, other, ongoing currents of anti-Asian sentiment, or even hatred, which remain alive and continue in our culture.

The “Red Altar” presentation at our Diocesan Convention of 2019 put before us again the long legacy of discrimination against Asian immigrants, the internment of Japanese, the lynching of Chinese, and the myriad ways in which Asian people have faced the degradations and humiliations of American racism.

We grieve that that racism is still alive in our country. We condemn the violence against Asian people.

We condemn and repudiate the racism against our Asian brothers and sisters. And we are proud to lend our support and love to Allen, and our gratitude for the powerful, personal reflection and testimony he has written as a prophetic word and gift to the Diocese of New York, and to join him in this communication.