Who was the real Jesus?


Bob Libby states his purpose in writing this slim novel plainly in the prologue to his latest book — and it’s a bit startling if one thinks all priests have rock-solid faith and no doubts.

“In my own spiritual journey, I had a midlife crisis. Was the Incarnation, ‘the Word made flesh and dwelt among us,’ merely a nice idea, or did it really happen? Was Jesus for real? Was he really ‘truly human and truly divine?’”

Over more than half a century of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, Libby notes, his job has been to relate Scripture to human experience. He’s preached in many settings — parish ministry; as director of radio and television at the church center in New York; in schools, cruise ships and cathedrals. His published works include “The Forgiveness Book” and “Grace Happens.”

At the beginning of “What If It’s True?”, Libby settles for himself the question of whether Jesus actually existed in a few (perhaps too few) sentences, citing the biblical and historical scholarship of N.T. Wright.

He goes on to wonder about Jesus’ early life, sparsely covered in the Gospels, and especially about Luke’s account of Jesus in the temple at age 12, astonishing the elders with his questions and answers.

In seeking to draw a personal portrait of Jesus, Libby uses Scripture, some apocryphal accounts (such as the existence of Anne, Mary’s mother) and archeological discoveries such as Sepphoris, a Roman city near Nazareth where, Libby posits, Joseph may have worked as a carpenter.

The author gracefully expands the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth and youth, placing him in the context of a family that includes grandparents and a half-brother, James. Libby imagines that James was a son from Joseph’s previous marriage that ended with the death of his wife, Sarah.

In Libby’s hands, these are ordinary people involved in an extraordinary event and entrusted with a gift from God. His portrait of the 12-year-old Jesus is particularly vivid — a normal human boy not only learning from his parents, running around with his cousin (the young John the Baptist), but also questioning and discovering his divine destiny.

At the temple, Jesus meets the great Torah scholars Hillel and Gamaliel, gathered there for the celebration of the Passover. The boy asks about the Golden Rule, about God’s laws and about how King David, a sinful man, could be beloved of God.

As the book unfolds, the reader has the sense that author Libby is both telling the tale and following it to see where it will lead. It ends with Mary recalling the Annunciation from the Angel Gabriel and a quote from Luke after the temple scene: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

It feels a bit unfinished, and in some books that would be a flaw. However, for “What If It’s True?”, there is also the sense that the story continues, as we know it does.

Time with the TARDIS enlivens campus ministry

Ohio University visitors pose for a selfie photo with the TARDIS replica at Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. Photo/courtesy of Church of the Good Shepherd

By Episcopal Journal

“I want to tell you, seeing the TARDIS every day this semester has been what keeps me going.” — student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Since September, a big blue box has occupied the front steps of Church of the Good Shepherd, located in the heart of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Fans of the long-running BBC science-fiction television series “Doctor Who” quickly recognize it as a replica of the TARDIS, the vehicle the title character uses to travel through space and time.
The church created the replica to advertise its fall “Gospel According to Doctor Who” series. More than serving as a marketing tool, the box has sparked what the church called “powerful and unexpected interactions” with members of the university community.

First launched in 1963, “Doctor Who” is a BBC television series about an extraterrestrial “Time Lord” who explores the universe — past, present, and future — with human companions. They travel in his purloined TARDIS (short for Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which resembles an old-fashioned British police call box on the outside but is a large, technologically advanced space ship on the inside.

Annoucement of “Gospel According to Doctor Who” series with TARDIS replica at Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. Photo/courtesy of Church of the Good Shepherd

After the TARDIS materialized outside the church, church members observed people of all ages photographing themselves with it. During Homecoming weekend, visiting alumni took a picture with the TARDIS, posted it with a description of the church and promoted the Gospel According to Doctor Who program on their Dayton business’s Facebook page.

Among other interactions the church reported:
• Student groups who meet with the priest or use the church space asked about it, which provided a conversational way to introduce them to the Episcopal Church. A few students attended church services because they saw the TARDIS in front of the church.
• During the parish book sale, a young woman stopped by and bought two books because, when she saw the TARDIS, saying it felt like a sign that she would be welcomed. She also said she didn’t think highly of churches because of news stories predator priests but that the presence of the TARDIS made her realize not all churches were bad.
• The university music department borrowed the TARDIS for a Halloween season “Hallowpalooza” music program for area school children. When the TARDIS moved, passersby expressed concern that it was leaving, and students applauded when it later was reassembled on the church steps.

“It has been a wonderful opportunity to explain that when the church is at its best, it is very much like the TARDIS: symbolizing hope, a place for help and [somewhere] bigger on the inside, which means it shows us something larger than ourselves and has room for all people,” said the rector, the Rev. Deborah Woolsey. “The TARDIS has given us ... a new and surprisingly effective way to engage in campus ministry. We have been reminded that interacting with the Holy Spirit can be playful and joyful and still be holy.”

An organ crescendo 10 years in the making

The new Miller-Scott organ at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York. Photos/Benjamin K. Hoskins

By Kirk Petersen
The Living Church

After more than a decade of planning, fundraising and construction, a prominent New York parish has introduced a pipe organ for the ages.

More than 1,100 people packed the pews at St. Thomas Church Fifth Ave. for the Oct. 5 dedication recital of the new $11 million Miller-Scott organ. They heard more than 90 minutes of organ works from an instrument that combines an ancient invention with sophisticated modern electronics.

St. Thomas occupies a unique spot among places for Anglican sacred music. In addition to a large church community, the parish also is home to the St. Thomas Choir School, America’s only church-affiliated choir boarding school, which the New York Times likened to Westminster Abbey in London. St. Thomas was founded in 1823, and the current building opened in 1913.

Each year, 25 to 30 boys in grades 3 through 8 study, work and live at the school. They perform in the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, which periodically tours in Europe and throughout the United States.

With the new organ, “we now have the instrument to match the quality of the music and the world-class choir we have here,” said Ben Sheen, associate organist.

The church voted in 2006 to launch a capital campaign to restore stained-glass windows and acquire a new organ. The midtown church had not conducted a capital campaign since the 1930s, said Ann Kaplan, the church’s director of development. More than 1200 donors contributed close to $9 million toward the $11 million project.

Ornate carvings on the organ cabinet include a dedication to John Scott.

The instrument is designated as the Irene D. and William R. Miller Chancel Organ in Memory of John Scott. Miller is a former vestry member and retired pharmaceutical executive; Scott, at one time the organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, was the church’s organist from 2004 until his sudden death in 2015, at the age of 59.

Scott was succeeded by Daniel Hyde, a Cambridge-trained Briton. The church recently announced that Jeremy Filsell will succeed Hyde in the spring of 2019, when Hyde returns to King’s College in Cambridge.

The organ is large but its 7069 pipes are not record-breaking. The Boardwalk Hall Auditorium in Atlantic City has more than 33,000 pipes, but most of them have been out of commission for decades. The Wanamaker Grand Court Organ in Philadelphia is the largest functioning organ, with 28,750 pipes.

More than 100 draw knobs control the various ranks of pipes on the Miller-Scott organ console.
“You have string stops, which are the softer stops on the organ, and the flutey stops, the reed stops, and then there’s one entire division of the organ that is dedicated to orchestral sounds,” Sheen said. “So we have an oboe, a cor anglais, a clarinet, a French horn, so it can replicate the full symphony orchestra just from one person playing it.”

A reminder to silence cell phones.

Sophisticated electronics enable one musician to control all those stops while also playing multiple keyboards. Sheen said that many combinations of stops are programmed to respond at the touch of a button. He likened the organist’s console to an airline pilot’s cockpit. “You essentially control the entire orchestra from that one seat.”

Pipe organs have inspired the phrase “pulling out all the stops,” meaning to use every available resource. Sheen said that as a practical matter organists never pull out all the stops.

The organ was built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa. The $11 million paid for more than the organ — a variety of factors drove the rest of the cost, starting with structural work to the church. Steel girders had to be installed to support the weight of the instrument and acoustical changes were made to accommodate the new pipes.

The former organ had all its pipes on one side of the chancel, but the new organ required a new case on the other side. An ornately carved wooden case was designed and built to complement the existing one and the interior of the church.
“This is an instrument that will, hopefully, last without needing any renovations for 50 to 100

A tribute to the four writers of the gospels.

years,” Sheen said in explaining the total cost.

To appreciate the quality of the instrument, there’s no substitute for hearing it under the 95-foot vaulted ceiling of the Fifth Ave. church. But the church website offers an audio webcast of the dedication recital, and even the tinny speakers of a computer can provide an aural glimpse of the range and complexity of the organ’s sound.

Kaplan said the New York location also added to the expense. Dobson workers from Iowa typically were housed in the choir school, which helped with the cost, but travel costs were significant.

Hyde, who played at the dedication in October, will play the second of six recitals in the church’s Grand Organ series on Dec. 22. Sheen and three other award-winning organists will play at the remaining recitals, which run through May.

Philadelphia cathedral’s arts show explores ‘themes and variations’

“Themes and Variations” artwork is displayed in the sanctuary of Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. Photo/Thomas Lloyd

Reflection by Thomas Lloyd

The congregation at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral includes a number of visual artists. To celebrate their gifts, the cathedral arts program devotes an exhibition every two years to their work.

Having served as director of music at the cathedral since 2010, I was asked last summer by Dean Judith A. Sullivan to add the visual arts program to my responsibilities. As a long-time art lover who already had gotten to know several of our artists, I was especially excited that I had started just in time for the biennial Cathedral Artists exhibit already on the schedule for November and December of this year. This inspired me to take the opportunity to visit each of the artists in their studios to see their current work and talk about their creative process.

I noticed a common tendency to return to certain subjects again and again, even as the artistic approach, technique and media of each artist continued to change over time. From this observation came the idea of unifying the show under the familiar musical title “Themes and Variations.”

We also had just engaged the congregation in a focus on creation (following a theme recommended to churches nationally). I believed this new exhibit also could reflect the infinite variety and unity of our divinely created world through the way artists imagine variations of human or natural subjects, religious symbols, colors and forms.
Our artists also are drawn to a broad panoply of media (painting, mixed media, etching, sculpture, photography) and styles, across the spectrum from abstraction to realism. As I saw how they kept coming back to the same subjects and ideas over extended periods of time, I wondered: “What is it that these artists keep searching for that we might be missing, that might be essential, beautiful, quietly unnoticed?”

“The Artist,” photograph by John Dowell

We then worked together to choose multiple works illustrating the idea of “variations.” John Dowell’s large and finely detailed photographs from his “Rittenhouse Square” series contain multiple views from different ranges above this historic Philadelphia park. As Dowell wrote in the show catalog, “I noticed [that] when the trees shed their leaves I could get a better sense or feeling of a particular area looking through the branches. It was so different from above, and you could feel the enveloping of the space. You met friends, had lunch, lay on the grass or danced. This I rediscovered spending hours in the square at all times of day and evening, realizing the wonder of this beautiful place. Many of us pass through it, but we rarely see it for what it truly is. I want to make you stop, look and absorb.”

Mixed-media painter Anne Minich contributed works from her “Heads” series, one of a number of distinctive themes she has developed throughout her career. She explained that the image was “intentionally gender neutral.”

“Trio,” mixed-media painting on wood by Anne Minich

In “Poet’s Prayer,” a wooden relief version of the image is surrounded by embedded seashells and three white shapes containing the words “recollect,” “intend” and “compose.” These words “indicate what I believe all artists need to do before starting a work of any kind, in any discipline,” Minich said.”

In “Trio,” three flat, copper versions of the head image are presented in a row, all with brilliant white halos against a penetrating, clearly carved red background on gessoed wood. This “variation” recalls images of heads and halos throughout Christian art and iconography.

“Three Perspectives on Life,” painted wood sculpture by Won Choi

A series of three abstract wood sculptures by Won Choi reflect her “experience of changing perspectives at different stages of my life. ... At the third stage [Three Perspectives on Life], I am perceiving the world as a place where one comes for the purification of one’s soul through many stages, one at a time.”

Suzanne Duplantis painted “At a Crossroads — Kelly Drive” alongside other paintings of hers linked by the idea of “seeing through.” She said she was drawn “by the idea of seeing through a passage way to a focal point, a focal point that is more or less not the point. I guess you could say the point is the light along the way.”

“Alley, St. Michael’s,” oil on wood by Suzanne DuPlantis

The artwork is displayed in the cathedral’s sanctuary, where space and light make it possible to view the works at close range or while participating in liturgy. The same space is used for social-outreach ministries during the week, where a wider range of people have access to work of this dedicated community of artists. Exhibits change every four to six weeks during the year, with Lent reserved for a display of one of two sets of Stations of the Cross by Cathedral artists Gerald Di Falco (permanent collection) or Virginia Maksymowicz (on loan).
For the complete exhibition catalog, visit the arts page of www.philadelphiacathedral.org.

The direct link to the exhibition catalog is /https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HUXzcd9lgitIJq7URshA4-pFwVlCW-9o/view

Thomas Lloyd is director of music and arts at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.


Advent: The faith-filled countdown to Christmas

Dec. 2 is the first Sunday of Advent, the Christian season of spiritual preparation before celebrating the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Episcopal Journal presents some resources suitable for the season.

Books from Forward Movement:
O Wisdom: Advent Devotions on the Names of Jesus
Edited by Rachel Jones
Songs of thanks and praise, of lament and longing, of restoration and return have been on people’s lips for millennia. The verses of the ancient hymn, the O Antiphons, explore and celebrate the many names of Jesus and present a way to sing along with the story of God. Drawn from the scriptural words of Isaiah, the O Antiphons have been sung in churches and monastic communities since at least the eighth century. Through meditations, art, poems and photos created by people from across the church, this book offers space and time to embrace Jesus’ presence among us now — and await his coming in glory. One can enjoy these prayers and praises throughout the seasons of Advent and Christmas as they beckon: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

I Witness: Living Inside the Stories of Advent
By Kate Moorehead
Many have heard the story of Jesus’ birth, but have they lived inside it? Episcopal priest Kate Moorehead invites readers to enter the story of salvation with hearts and minds wide open, experiencing the miracle of Jesus through the eyes of witnesses: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Wise Men and others. Moorehead encourages readers to bear witness — both then and now — to the marvel and majesty of a babe born in a manger, of Christ the king. These daily devotionals offer a companion through the seasons of Advent and Christmas and urge the faithful to keep reading, keep listening, keep learning, experiencing the story of Christ’s birth as both familiar and new in each retelling.

Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos
By Tim Schenck,
with illustrations by Jay Sidebotham
With humor anchored by spiritual truths, author Tim Schenck helps readers maintain spiritual sanity through the often-frenetic chaos of Advent and Christmas. Illustrated by cartoonist Jay Sidebotham, “Dog in the Manger” also explores the major characters of the season in new ways, including John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Questions following each section make “Dog in the Manger” appropriate for personal or group use.

Dawn from on High
By John Alexander
Through inspiring and accessible meditations, John Alexander provides a theologically rich and biblically grounded journey through Advent, Christmastide and the first days of Epiphanytide. Based on the eucharistic lectionary of the Episcopal Church, Alexander takes the reader into the heart of Advent’s focus on “last things” and then the incarnation of Jesus. Preachers may find this volume a useful resource for preparing sermons, but any Christian may benefit from these homilies while seeking a focus on the great mysteries of salvation.

Calendar: Slow Down. Quiet. It’s Advent!
(2018 Advent Calendar posters)
Created by Susan Elliott and Jay Sidebotham, this colorable Advent calendar poster suggests ways to mark the days through Advent. The calendar offers ideas for prayer, helping others and being thoughtful about the true meaning of Christmas. It offers advice to take to our hearts and walls: Slow down. Quiet. It’s Advent!
For information on ordering these resources, go to www.forwardmovement.org.


Books from Paraclete Press:
Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations
By David Bannon, foreword by Philip Yancey
Christmas can be a time not only of joy but also of tears, memory and prayer. Celebration does not always come easily. In 25 illustrated daily readings, “Wounded in Spirit” offers the opportunity to commune with Scripture and the wounded artists that gave the world masterpieces of hope: Gauguin, Tissot, Caravaggio, Tanner, Delacroix, van Gogh, Dürer. While the artists’ names and paintings may be familiar, this book provides an inspiring look into the humanity of the artists themselves. They were flawed and often troubled people: a widower that saw a vision of Christ; a murderer who painted himself as Peter; a grieving father who drew his sons as Jesus and John; an orphan who saw his salvation in the Holy Family. Despite their wounds — perhaps because of them — these artists achieved the sublime. Based on the latest research in history and grief, “Wounded in Spirit” returns readers to where Christian art began. From mourning in Roman catacombs to works of the masters, readers may join the world’s great religious artists on their pilgrimages of hope and brokenness, encountering in the artists’ wounds — and their own — “God with us.”

Mother and Child: Ever Ancient, Ever New
Art by Christine Granger
Christine Granger’s artistic portrayals of Mary and her infant son Jesus, paired with the words of sages, saints, and sinners through the centuries, lead the reader to moments of intimacy with the divine Mother and Child.
For ordering information, see www.paracletepress.com.
Meditations from
Seminary of the Southwest:
Each Advent, Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, produces a free pocket-size Advent Meditation booklet. The contributors are a mix of faculty, students, alumni and friends who offer perspectives on the Scripture of each day. The meditation authors also record themselves reading their submissions, and the seminary shares these on its website and through its Sowing Holy Questions blog.

Children drum the rhythms of life at camp

Campers, counselors and staff learned drumming from professional drummer and dancer Yahaya Kamate. Photos/Sharon Sheridan

By Sharon Sheridan
Episcopal Journal

Trevor attended his first summer drumming camp at St. Stephen’s in Millburn, N.J., three years ago, and he keeps coming back — this year as a counselor-in-training.

“It’s good being a counselor. You can help out kids,” said Trevor, 13 (Trevor and other teen participants’ last names are withheld to protect their privacy.) Throughout the August afternoon, he enthusiastically joined in the day’s activities: dancing, drumming, decorating T-shirts, playing on the church lawn, eating dinner, competing at Bingo, making s’mores over a campfire.

Shepherded by paid staff plus youth and adult volunteers, about 10 children a day attended the weeklong PATCH (Parents and Their Children) drumming camp at the church in late August.

During the school year, the PATCH program, supported by the Diocese of Newark Prison Ministry, transports children with incarcerated parents to visit their parents at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark. It also provides Christmas parties and presents for the children, back-to-school backpacks loaded with school supplies, and summer camp opportunities or supplies.

Yahaya Kamate, left, a former member of the Ivory Coast’s national dance company, teaches dance moves to campers and counselors at the PATCH drumming camp.

Each day during the annual summer drumming camp, the PATCH children learned drumming and dance skills from professional instructor and performer Yahaya Kamate. They also enjoyed games, dinner and snacks and created crafts projects, including decorating T-shirts honoring Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday and painting “kindness rocks” with slogans such as “Be the change you want to see in the world,” which they placed in the church garden.

At week’s end, about 40 family members and friends attended a final performance of drumming, dancing, singing and a skit about the life of Mandela, the late anti-apartheid leader and former president of South Africa. Each child recited a piece of Mandela’s biography; then all proclaimed together: “I am Nelson Mandela!”

Some of the children, like Trevor, were repeat campers.

“Next year, I’m coming again” to be a counselor-in-training, said Shekinah, 13. She enjoys “the drumming, the dancing, especially the art, and the singing.”

“I hope they really want to come back — to something creative and fun and authentic,” said Kim Williams, church music director and one of the camp coordinators. Kamate is a good role model for the children, she noted. “I love his way with the kids. He’s firm in his expectations. He just naturally commands respect. But he also is kind and gentle with them.”

A native of the Ivory Coast, Kamate plays the djembe and the doundoun (a bass drum) and was a member of his country’s national dance company before coming to the United States in 1994. He currently teaches at the Alvin Ailey School in New York as well as leads workshops at various schools, hospitals, churches and juvenile detention centers.

At the camp, he sat at the head of a circle of colorful drums, where campers, staff and counselors practiced drumming techniques and rhythms. A large poster behind him listed words and phrases to help drummers remember different melodies, or rhythm patterns. Some also provided positive motivation, such as “Yum, yum! Eat my veggies” and “Never give up.”

Positive messages also accompanied some of the sequences of dance moves, such as: “I will fall. I will sit. I will get up. I will survive.”

The church’s music director and one of the camp coordinators, Kim Williams, confers with a young drummer.

Beyond the ability to master a drumming sequence, Kamate says he hopes to instill skills that campers will use in school and elsewhere, such as patience and working together. He also stresses equality. “We are all the same,” he said. “Because I’m teaching, that doesn’t mean that I’m better than them.”

JaTaria, 15, reflected on what she had learned from when she first was a camper to becoming a counselor.

“When I was a camper, at first I was kind of scared and shy,” she said. “Over time, I learned how to play drums … I learned how to dance better.”

She found being a counselor hard but rewarding work. “I love kids,” said JaTaria, who aspires to be a nurse practitioner or lawyer. “It was incredible. I’m proud of them. … I learned how to be patient with kids. I learned how to drum, like a traditional African drum. I learned how to let myself be free and let my personality come out.”

The annual drumming camp costs about $7,500, with the biggest cost being the daily van to transport the children to and from the church, Williams said. Some food is purchased, some donated. Some staff, including a retired Newark special education teacher, are paid. “It’s very important to have consistent leadership,” Williams explained.

Volunteers — young and old — also are crucial to the program’s success.

“I always feel like this is kind of the heart of who St. Stephen’s is,” Williams said. “We do ministry. It’s not a checkbook church.”  

Sharon Sheridan is a member of the Diocese of Newark Prison Ministry.


Episcopalians work to mobilize voters

The Episcopal Public Policy Network created this graphic and tweeted that it is considering developing it as a sticker.

By David Paulsen
Episcopal News Service

The election in November should catch no one by surprise at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Philadelphia, Pa. Dozens of church members are participating in voter-education drives, and the congregation’s goal is 100 percent parishioner turnout on election day.
Civic engagement also is running high at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Decatur, Ga., an Atlanta suburb. The congregation is sending parishioners to canvas the neighborhood around the church in support of statewide efforts to register up to 1.2 million new voters.
And the Diocese of Indianapolis has hosted voter outreach events where church volunteers are part of an interfaith initiative seeking to reach more than 100,000 Indianans who haven’t voted before.
These are among Episcopalians’ efforts across the nation to engage voters in the November elections.
“We often talk about how Jesus’ life shows us to be politically active. … We need to care about the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Deacon Carol Duncan, who is coordinating St. Martin-in-the-Fields’ participation in election-related efforts. Episcopalians like Duncan have been outspoken in their call to “vote faithfully” because they say the church alone cannot change unjust systems. “You can’t do that unless you vote,” Duncan said.
Although Episcopalians may be motivated by personal political beliefs, church-based election efforts are necessarily nonpartisan. Those efforts also are grounded in church policies established by General Convention, which in July passed resolutions calling Episcopalians to greater political engagement. That engagement has the continued support of the church’s Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C.
“Voting and participation in our government is a way of participating in our common life, and that is a Christian obligation,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a video statement before the 2016 presidential election. The Washington office’s Episcopal Public Policy Network referenced Curry’s comments Aug. 7 in an updated message about the upcoming elections.
The message provides voting resources, including links to voter-registration information, states’ voting policies and polling locations. It also links to the Episcopal Church’s voter “toolkit,” which provides further guidance on individual action and how to mobilize communities in ways guided by faith.

The reform group Fair Districts PA held a presentation in October 2017 at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Pennsylvania about redistricting. The event featured the map of Pennsylvania in the form of a puzzle that attendees could piece together. Photo/courtesy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields

“We encourage Episcopalians to engage in the democratic process this fall by promoting voter registration, learning about candidates on the ballot in your area, making a plan for yourself to vote on Election Day and helping others to do the same,” said Office of Government Relations Director Rebecca Linder Blachly. “Our Vote Faithfully Toolkit provides resources for parishes and individuals to get involved and to participate in our civic duty.”
The Aug. 7 message was perfect for adapting for an upcoming newsletter in her diocese, where not everyone has time to volunteer with voter-engagement drives, said the Rev. Fatima Yakuba-Madus, missioner for community engagement for the Diocese of Indianapolis.
In her former role as a deacon at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Speedway, Ind., she regularly participated in neighborhood canvasing — knocking on doors, encouraging people to vote and helping them register if they weren’t yet registered.
As missioner, she is active in the collective of congregations known as Faith in Indiana, which is leading the effort to reach more than 100,000 unregistered voters and persuade them to vote on Nov. 6. Church volunteers have called some of those residents during phone banks the diocese has hosted at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis and St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, located north of the capital in Carmel. The Episcopal volunteers specifical focus on reaching residents in a legislative district with historically low voter turnout.
Civic action is rightly influenced by faith, Yakuba-Madus said. “We have to participate in voting.”
Government agencies have unparalleled capacity to fulfill the Christian mission of serving people living on the economic margins of society, and “nobody’s going to if we don’t vote,” she said.
General Convention regularly affirms the church’s commitment to political engagement.
“Our church has policy that urges all of us to advocate for the right to vote, including eliminating barriers to voting,” Blachly said. “Voter-registration issues are addressed at the state level, so we encourage you to get involved.”
In July, General Convention approved two resolutions addressing voting rights. Resolution C047 commits the church to advocating in support of the principle of “one person, one vote.”
Resolution D003 condemns measures that result in voter suppression and supports steps to increase voter participation, such as “policies that will increase early voting, extend registration periods, guarantee an adequate number of voting locations, allow absentee balloting without the necessity of having an excuse, and prohibit forms of identification that restrict voter participation.”
The resolution also criticizes partisan gerrymandering and urges the National Conference of State Legislators to develop a fair process for establishing legislative and congressional districts.
Gerrymandering is the tactic of drawing districts that will favor one party over the other in elections, usually by packing similar voters into just a few districts or diluting them across several districts where they will remain in the minority.
The debate over gerrymandering is complicated further by gerrymandering’s use, under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to ensure greater minority representation in Congress by drawing district lines to create “majority-minority” districts. Critics have argued that this has had the long-term effect of pooling more Democratic voters together and ceding more districts to Republicans.

Soyini Coke, right, arranged for a voter mobilization training at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Decatur, Ga., led by the New Georgia Project organizers, including Carey C.J. Jenkins. Photo/Dennis Patterson Jr.

“For the follower of Jesus, gerrymandering undercuts our fundamental vow to respect the dignity of every human being,” the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, rector of Philadelphia’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields, wrote in an October 2017 article. “Participation in shaping our common life is a Christian duty and something Christians regard, respect and protect for all people regardless of affiliation, belief or nonbelief.”
At the time, Pennsylvania was grappling with a gerrymandering controversy. In January, the state Supreme Court ruled the congressional district boundaries were unconstitutional. The court followed up with a map establishing new district lines that will take effect when the next term of Congress begins in 2019.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields, meanwhile, has turned its focus to voter education and voter registration.
“We know how important voting is, particularly this year,” said Duncan. Her church has partnered with a group called POWER, an interfaith coalition of more than 50 congregations focused on community organizing in southeastern and central Pennsylvania.
POWER organizers led a forum in July at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and about 40 parishioners attended to learn more about voter-mobilization efforts, Duncan said. Training was scheduled Aug. 26 to coincide with the kickoff event for a voter-education drive.
Other examples of Episcopal engagement across the country include Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in San Diego, which will host the League of Women Voters on Sept. 29 for a presentation about state propositions. The Diocese of Texas’ Episcopal Health Foundation partnered in 2016 with Mi Familia Vota to register Latino voters, and similar efforts are planned for this election cycle in metropolitan Houston and Atlanta.
“People’s votes really do matter,” said Soyini Coke, a member of Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Decatur, who is coordinating the congregation’s voter-registration efforts in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Coke never voted and was disinterested in the political process — until the November 2016 presidential election, she said. She was disheartened by the outcome but committed herself to turning her anger into action, she said. “It is not sufficient to just complain.”
She and about 20 parishioners met at Holy Cross on Aug. 4 for voter-registration training, followed by making direct contact with voters. Some broke into teams of two to knock on doors, guiding unregistered voters through the process of signing up. Others remained at the church to call potential voters on lists provided by the New Georgia Project.
The nonpartisan project has been registering Georgians to vote for several years, with a goal of full participation of all eligible voters. It identified 400 unregistered residents within a two-mile radius of Holy Cross, Coke said. The Aug. 4 registration drive generated 396 phone calls, 97 contacts with voters and seven new voter registrations.
Holy Cross hopes to organize similar drives before the November election, Coke said. It is a majority black church, and such activism has deep roots in the black church tradition, she said.
“It’s very natural there,” she said. “If you’re going to talk about activism in the black community, the church is at the center of that and always has been.”

Convention gives church full access to trial-use marriage rites. Change would allow same-sex couples to wed in their parishes.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler, deputy from Atlanta and chair of the legislative committee that considered all the marriage resolutions, speaks before the House of Deputies. Photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg/ENS

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Episcopal News Service

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, which met from July 5 to 13 in Austin, Texas, voted to allow all Episcopalians, including same-sex couples, the ability to be married by their priests in their home churches. The rites had been approved for trial use by the 2015 General Convention.

Resolution B012 had gone from the House of Deputies to the bishops and back to the deputies on its road to approval. Deputies overwhelmingly approved a heavily amended version of the resolution and the House of Bishops added a technical amendment that did not change the resolution’s goal of giving full access to two trial-use marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples approved by the 2015 General Convention.

The deputies’ vote was:

  • Clergy: 99 yes, 3 no, 4 divided
  • Lay: 101 yes, 5 no, 1 divided

Fifty-six votes in each order were required for passage. Divided votes, which count as “no,” are recorded when the clergy or lay members of a deputation split their votes between yes and no. General Convention resolutions must be adopted by both houses with the same text.

The resolution provides for:

  • Giving rectors or clergy in charge of a congregation the ability to provide access to the trial use of the marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The 2015 resolution and the original version of B012 said that clergy only could use the rites under the direction of their bishop.
  • Requiring that, if a bishop “holds a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples,” he or she may invite another bishop, if necessary, to provide “pastoral support” to any couple desiring to use the rites, as well as to the clergy member and congregation involved. In any case, an outside bishop must be asked to take requests for remarriage if either member of the couple is divorced, to fulfill a canonical requirement that applies to opposite-sex couples.
  • Continuing trial use of the rites until the completion of the next comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

The resolution also eliminated the original B012’s call for a Task Force on Communion across Difference. Such a group was created via a separate resolution.

“We have already engaged in a grace-filled debate — an honorable and healthy debate, discussion and struggle,” the Very Rev. Sam Candler, deputy from Atlanta and chair of the legislative committee that considered all of the convention’s marriage resolutions, told the House of Deputies in urging passage without further tinkering when it returned from the House of Bishops. “We were reminded of the significant compromise that was made by various committed constituencies and holy saints of this church.”

No one spoke against the resolution during the House of Deputies’ short debate.

A Lexington (Ky.) deputy holds up the deputation’s paper ballot documenting its vote. Photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg/ENS

The Rev. Scot McComas, Fort Worth deputy, told his colleagues that if they passed B012 they would be acting as pastors to all the people of the Episcopal Church. Yet, he noted, “For 40 years our LGBT brothers and sisters have been at the back of the bus and, every so often, they are invited to move forward one row at a time.”

The Rev. Susan Russell, Los Angeles deputy and longtime leader in the effort for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, described the “long and winding road” that the Episcopal Church had traveled to get to this point. She said she supported B012, “recognizing that this is a hard-won compromise but one which I believe will lead us forward into that work as the Episcopal branch of the ‘Jesus Movement.’”

She reminded the house that its debate was being livestreamed and that Episcopalians in the dioceses of Tennessee, Dallas and Florida (three of the places in which the bishops have not allowed the rites to be used), “where the faithful in the pews are waiting for us to let our ‘yes’ be yes — to say, ‘we do’ to marriage for all.”

East Carolina Deputy Joan Geiszler-Ludlum, who chaired General Convention’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage, implored deputies to complete the convention’s actions on marriage. “We are fond of saying around the Episcopal Church that all are welcome, and all means all, y’all.”

Long Island Bishop Larry Provenzano offered B012 in response to Resolution A085, which the task force proposed in part to give a way for Episcopalians to use the rites in the eight of the church’s 101 domestic dioceses in which the diocesan bishop has refused to authorize use of the trial-use marriage rites.

“I think this is a really important moment for the church,” Provenzano said in an interview with ENS just after the deputies’ decision. “We do this without there having to be one side wins and one side loses. Very much like the theme of the whole convention, there’s a great movement for the church to really be the church in this time.”

Vermont Bishop Tom Ely, who long has been involved in crafting resolutions to move the church closer to full sacramental inclusion of LGBTQ people, said Episcopalians also needed to know that the rites described in B012 were available to everyone in the church, not just same-sex ones. The resolution calls for studying how the rites are used across the church.

“So, let’s see if we like the actual liturgies,” Ely said. “Do these liturgies convey the spirit of what we want? Do they pray well? Do they work for all couples? Are these worthy of inclusion, at some point, in the Book of Common Prayer?”

Chicago Bishop Jeff Lee called B012 “an elegant solution for moving forward in a way that respects the role of bishops as the chief liturgical officers in their diocese,” similar to that achieved earlier in the convention over contentious issue of prayer book revision. Lee chaired the bishops’ part of the legislative committee that reviewed the marriage resolutions.

The compromise was “built on the generosity of people who would rather have seen it go further in one direction or another,” Lee said. “And that’s a remarkable thing about this convention, I think: that willingness on the part of people who cherish and really invested themselves in having ‘all this’ or ‘all that’ being willing to let go of the things they cherish for the sake of moving forward together.”

The 2015 resolution said that clergy only could use the rites under their bishop’s direction. This convention’s A085 would have required bishops to make provision for all couples asking to be married to have “reasonable and convenient access” to the two trial-use marriage rites. However, it also would have added the two trial-use marriage rites to the Book of Common Prayer and amended the prayer book’s other marriage rites, prefaces and sections of the catechism to make language gender neutral. That change was a sticking point for many.

The original version of B012 would have required bishops who would not authorize the rites to allow congregations to receive Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) from another bishop who would provide access to the liturgies. It removed the prayer book element.

Deputies agreed to a version of B012 that took away the DEPO option and placed the decision-making power for using the rites with rectors or other clergy in charge of congregations. The bishops’ amendment comes in the seventh resolve of the resolution and adds the words “provided that nothing in this resolve narrows the authority of the rector or priest-in-charge (Canon III.9.6(a)).”

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ Documentary examines the hero in a zippered cardigan

Fred Rogers with the puppet Daniel Stripèd Tiger. Photo/courtesy of Focus Features

By Pamela A. Lewis

Fred Rogers hated television. That is, he hated the kind of television where, in the first TV show he had ever seen, it had “something horrible on it with people throwing pies at one another,” he once recalled.

It was into this television programming environment that “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” made its debut on WQED-TV, Pittsburgh (later PBS), on Feb. 19, 1968. In “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the touching, respectful and carefully crafted documentary that honors the 50th anniversary of the beloved program, Director Morgan Neville explores the ideas of the man who transformed children’s television.

Rather than unfurling a year-to-year biography of his subject, Neville emphasizes the philosophy that informed “Mister Rogers,” first alluded to as the film opens with a grainy black-and-white clip of Rogers composing a tune on his piano. Turning to the camera, Rogers explains that, as in music, where one key modulates to another, children need help moving through life’s different and sometimes difficult modulations.

Trained in music (he held a B.A. degree in music composition from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.), Rogers composed and performed many of the songs on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” (most notably its famous theme). Although Rogers wonders aloud whether his idea is “too philosophical,” this musically based outlook on childhood development lay at the show’s core.

Neville’s mission is to show what manner of man Rogers was and continued to be, beginning from his early life until his death in 2003. A striking example of this occurred on May 1, 1969, when an obviously nervous yet quietly determined Rogers, then 41, appeared before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications requesting $20 million to help support funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Like a gentle rain wearing down stone, Rogers succeeded in convincing the initially condescending subcommittee chair Sen. John O. Pastore (D-RI) to provide the funding.

Familiarity and formality, activity and repose, and reality and make-believe were some of the major themes “Mister Rogers” presented throughout its 895 episodes. Neville’s frequent references to these contrasting aspects suggest that they are as important to him as they were to the show’s creator. Rogers’ familiar entrance through the door of his “home,” where he removed his formal outer clothing and loafers and donned his iconic cardigans and sneakers, subtly communicated the importance of respecting the demarcation between work and home lives. And the red trolley car, endowed with its own distinctive tune, moved along its track into a tunnel that led to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

While Rogers was the star (a label he would have scoffed at) of the show, he was surrounded by a host of human neighbors and friends. In the documentary, they reminisce about working with Rogers, as well as alongside adorable fuzzy and felt-clad puppets he made, which actually were alter egos of Rogers himself. Characters such as Daniel Stripèd Tiger, Henrietta Pussycat and King Friday XIII embodied an array of human behaviors and emotions that often baffled and challenged young viewers, while also showing how to contend with them. Through footage of actual children talking about their fears, angry moments and doubts with the puppets, who empathize and encourage, Neville highlights Rogers’ point that “feelings are mentionable and manageable.”

Celebrities often showed up on “Mister Rogers.” Some of the film’s most affecting moments include conversations between Rogers and the famous (or soon-to-be), such as the then-very young trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, violinist Yitzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Neville adds more personal touches through on-camera interviews with Rogers’ wife, Joanne, as well as with their two sons, John and James, who share cherished memories of a beloved husband and father.

Ordained in 1962 as a minister in the United Presbyterian Church, Rogers put his faith and seminary training into action in front of the camera and directly into his young viewers’ hearts while combating what he called the “bombardment” of animated television. In the words of his friend the Rev. George Smith, Rogers displayed the “spiritual dimension without specifically identifying it.” But in a brief clip, Rogers faces the camera and asserts forthrightly the Christian ethos, saying: “Love is at the root of everything; all learning, all relationships; love, or the lack of it.” Love was arguably the banner that flew over “Mister Rogers,” signifying that everyone was loved and capable of loving.

Rogers intrepidly, yet delicately, addressed the thorny social and political issues of the 1960s and 1970s, and Neville honors this facet of “Mister Rogers.” At a time when the country was in the grip of racial tensions, Rogers rose above those conflicts in his typically quiet way.

Fred Rogers, right, addressed the country’s racial tensions by sharing a footbath on his show with “Officer Clemmons,” played by François Clemmons. Photo/courtesy of Focus Features

In one episode, he invites François Clemmons, an African-American actor and singer who played a policeman on the show, to share a foot bath on a hot day. Minutes later, Rogers dries Clemmons’ feet, evoking Christ’s action toward his disciples that is re-enacted in the Maundy Thursday service. Preceded by a chilling 1964 clip of a white motel manager pouring acid into a swimming pool to make black and white integrationists leave, the Rogers-Clemmons pool scene makes a powerful visual statement.

Rogers had his share of debunkers, and Neville gives them their space, more in the interest of fairness to the opposition rather than out of shared conviction. These critical voices (ostensibly from the conservative and right-wing press) decried what they saw as Rogers feeding children a narcissistic myth of their specialness, which they believed engendered a sense of self-centered entitlement. Neville also includes comedians such as Eddie Murphy, who made Rogers the butt of send-ups on “Saturday Night Live” and other shows — bits that ranged from affectionate to tasteless.

In this 50th year since the lilting theme music of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” first played, those old enough to remember the show concur that the zeitgeist is such that we need Mister Rogers — or anyone who could be a Mister Rogers — more than ever. Neville’s film succeeds most by reminding us how one person can make a difference, especially when it is a truly good person who does that.

The film inspires a deep nostalgia for a program that was enjoyable, caring and honest, but also proved that it was possible for television to be a medium in the service of the good. As Rogers explained, we are called to be “tikkun olam” — Hebrew for “repairers of creation.” He understood what that involved, and Neville’s film is all about how he did that so well.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is rated PG-13. Church group bookings can be arranged by contacting Group Sales at 877-399-7474, by e-mail to Mr.Rogers@2656Marketing.com or via www.mrrogersgroups.com.

Pamela A. Lewis writes about topics of faith. She attends St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New York.

‘Heavenly Bodies’ Vestments inspire designers

Evening ensemble, John Galliano for House of Dior. Courtesy of Dior Heritage Collection, Paris. Photos/Metropolitan Museum of Art

Reviewed by Pamela A. Lewis

“Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” currently on view at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, features the work of 55 renowned and predominantly European designers. Inspired by the Roman Catholic Church’s sumptuous vestments and ecclesiastical accessories, they have created imaginative high-fashion regalia displayed in more than 150 ensembles. Included in the show are exceptional loans of vestments from the Vatican’s sacristy, some of which have never before left Rome. The largest exhibit in the history of the museum’s Costume Institute, “Heavenly Bodies” is on view in various galleries, as well as at the Met Cloisters, a separate museum that specializes in medieval art. Continue reading "‘Heavenly Bodies’ Vestments inspire designers"