Art reflects creator’s desire for inclusiveness, peace and love

By Jerry Hames

The peace marches and protestors during the Vietnam War prompted Karen Loew to create a monotype in the fall of 2016 as a political statement. “Symbols of the times were the hand peace sign and the daisies placed into the gun barrels held by soldiers and police,” she recalled.

The art, “Come Together,” also served as her Christmas card that year. “It is my update for our time in history, combining both visuals in a new way, to show my hope for inclusiveness of peace and love for all, united as in one hand, created by God and met in God. I want to encourage us all to come together, as human beings, on the same side, in favor of life and love and happiness for all humankind,” she said.

A member of the Episcopal Church & Visual Arts for seven years, she often contributes to the organization’s online exhibitions. She remembers painting when she was as young as 3 after her parents purchased art supplies for their children.

“I came from a blue-collar family — people said I’d starve to death if I became an artist — and so I decided to go into advertising art,” she said. “I graduated from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, got a job with a top design agency in Pittsburgh, but I also continued with my artwork on the side, as often as I could.” Loew enjoys monotyping, or making prints by drawing or painting on a smooth, nonabsorbent surface. The surface, or matrix, was historically a copper etching plate, but in contemporary work it can vary from zinc or glass to acrylic glass.

Loew, chair of the Coast Guard Art Program (COGAP) Committee of New York’s Salmagundi Club in New York and a member of the club’s board of directors, served in the Coast Guard at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2002 when she documented activities of Coast Guard Port Security Unit 305. She addressed the opening reception of the COGAP exhibition in Vlissingen, Holland, in 2009. Six years ago she received the Coast Guard Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest recognition given to men and women who have made outstanding contributions in advancing the Coast Guard’s missions.

“Art can be healing for those who create it and for those who view it,” she said. “This is certainly true for me as an artist — great art therapy. I hope it works for my audience.”

These artists use the Good Book as their medium

By S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate
Religion News Service

In 2015, Montreal-based artist Guy Laramée placed a large-format Bible from the 19th century upright with the spine open. Then, using a power grinder, he carved a landscape into the pages and painted along the curvatures, evoking the space of a cave whittled into a sheer mountainside.

It is a beautiful summoning of desert spaces, conjuring the place of the biblical prophets. It is, however, an unusual treatment of the Good Book.

And it is one that would never find its way to the $500 million Museum of the Bible, which opened on Nov. 17 in Washington, D.C. That museum is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of the sacred text through the ages.

Laramée, along with a number of contemporary artists, has been working with books not as muse, but as medium. You could call these artists book lovers, but only in the way that you could call Michelangelo a marble lover or Edward Scissorhands a tree lover.

The trade-offs involved in this sort of love become much more stark when the book in question is someone’s version of sacred scripture.

Artists such as Carole Kunstadt, Islam Aly and Jan Owen create their own sacred books, stitching together pages of handmade papers in creative ways, writing their own poems and prayers or carving symbolic designs out of the pages. The finished product is like a book yet also like a piece of sculpture. It’s not clear if the works belong in the library or the gallery.

Other artists, such as Laramée, Brian Dettmer and Meg Hitchcock, do the opposite. They each work in books the way other artists work in oil or marble, cutting away unnecessary elements to make way for a final product. Some of the most striking are those that use religious texts such as the Bible, Quran and Torah.

Hitchcock’s recent solo show, “10,000 Mantras,” which was on view last fall in Brooklyn, N.Y., displayed some creative uses of Holy Writ that probably never occurred to religious adherents.

Her artistic process has been to take sacred texts, carefully cut out individual characters from them, and then paste those characters in another place to form new words and new sentences that constitute other sacred texts. In one example from the show,  sge cut up a Bible and turned the letters  into the Buddhist mantra “om mani padme hum,” repeated 10,000 times. In this way, one text is transposed into another.

Asked whether he and artists like him are engaged in the desecration of sacred books, Laramée countered, “I’m sacrificing them, and like in any true sacrifice, the victim becomes sacred precisely because it is killed.”

For her part, Hitchcock comes from a strict evangelical Christian upbringing, and so knows what it is to have a high regard for the Bible. As she moved away from the faith of her youth, she retained a respect for sacred texts. She cuts them into pieces painstakingly, letter by letter — two short vertical cuts, two short horizontal cuts, repeated thousands of times. In this activity, Hitchcock finds, “I can get into a flow, and it’s very meditative.”

In earlier artworks such as “Throne: The Book of Revelation,” Hitchcock undertook a radical statement of the unity of faiths: She cut out individual characters from an English-language translation of the Quran and then pasted them on a large sheet in a dynamic design, spelling out the entire Book of Revelation from the Christian Bible. At the center of that piece she created a mandala spelling out the “throne verse” from the Quran, with all the characters cut from a Bible. In a single work, the Bible is transformed into a Quran, the Quran into a Bible.

“I search for the common threads that run through all scripture,” she said, “then weave them together to create a visual tapestry that speaks to our common ancestry and, ultimately, to our human condition.”

Others have not been so convinced of the reverent intentions behind the artistic liberties taken with sacred books.

In 2005, when London’s Tate Modern was about to display John Latham’s “God Is Great (#2)”— a sheet of glass slicing through a Bible, Quran and Talmud — the museum pulled the piece from display, fearing negative reactions.

And in 2014, in Frankfurt, Germany, three men entered the Portikus Gallery, agitated the workers and stole the Quran from the middle of Latham’s installation “God Is Great (#4)”. This was one of the last works by Latham, the father of what might be called the “Scriptural Manipulation Movement,” who died in 2006.

Hitchcock, whose artworks now sell well enough for her to work full time in her studio in upstate New York, says that every once in a while her gallery owner gets an earful from some visitor about the potential sacrilege going on. Even so, most people tell her how much they appreciate her art, and this, she says, is “even from some pretty hard-core believers.”

Hitchcock said her work theoretically could be “read,” but she also arranges the characters without punctuation or spacing, as she is “trying to discourage a literal reading.”

By downplaying the content of books — what they say — and emphasizing their form — their physical dimensions — these artists have found a medium that can be played with, sculpted, cut into pieces.

In contrast to Laramée’s power grinder, Brian Dettmer takes an X-Acto knife to the pages of books, carving through the leaves one by one to reveal layers of images and words throughout a book.

In a TED Talk in 2014, Dettmer said we could think of books as “living things.” Thus, “they also have the potential to continue to grow, to become new things.” Through the act of destruction, a new creation is born.

Between destruction and creation, the physical nature of letters, pages and bindings takes on new lives, in new forms.

By paying attention not only to the spiritual nature of the words and sentences in the holy books, but also to the very form of the book, these artists reinvent the sacred texts in new ways. As Hitchcock noted, even Bibles subject to standard use do not remain physically pristine or unaltered. Their pages, she said, “are stained with the tears and fingerprints of the devout.”

Through artworks such as hers, “words of God” truly become incarnate.

 

S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate is a writer, editor, public speaker and part-time professor at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

Celebrating Christ’s birth with crèches from around the world

By Jerry Hames

The cathedral’s crèche director, Lori Amos, adjusts figures in a nativity set so that it reflects the customs of the country where it was made.

As many have for the past 26 years, thousands of people will take part in a cherished Christmas tradition when they view a display of nativity scenes from Washington National Cathedral’s extensive crèche collection.

“We will have between 80 and 100 sets out this year,” said Lori Amos, the cathedral’s crèche director, days before the collection was placed on public view Nov. 20. “We’re still in progress, and decisions are being made as we speak.”

Many people come to the cathedral specifically to see the crèche exhibit, while others happen upon it during a tour or while attending a service or event. “Our goal is that, whether they look at everything we’ve displayed or simply stop to glimpse one set, that they’ll find something that blesses them,” she said.

Lori and her husband Chip are solely responsible for setting up the crèche exhibit each year. “He serves as my technical director and works on lighting, moving the crèches and supplies out of storage and into our workroom, formatting and printing labels, photography and major construction projects, while I unpack, set up and decorate each set and write the labels,” she said.

The crèches are displayed in two areas in the cathedral’s crypt — the first room in the north crypt aisle, just west of Bethlehem Chapel — and the Visitors’ Lounge, just outside the Museum Shop entrance.

“The advantage of these locations is that they give an untold number of people the opportunity to view the collection throughout the holiday season,” Amos said.

A serene pottery nativity set made in Maryland reflects the artist’s Asian heritage.

Each nativity is “set dressed” to emphasize its particular attributes, as well as to suggest the culture in which it was created. “Our goal is never to set a crèche the same way twice,” she said, “as we have visitors who have come every year to see those sets many times in a new way.”

The late Beulah Sommer’s collection of more than 600 nativity sets — first loaned to the cathedral for eight years, then donated in 1998 — forms the core of the cathedral’s collection.  About 100 more sets have come into the collection since then.

All nativity scenes are displayed in a three-year rotation so that as many as possible can be viewed. The sets vary dramatically in size and height. This year, the smallest set is a tiny resin nativity built on the head of a pin, while the largest is about 11 inches tall: a carved wooden Holy Family from Finland that includes one black sheep among the animals.

This year’s exhibit contains crèches made of wood, leather, stone, pottery, stained glass, cast iron, lignite coal, a mixture of mud and animal dung, and even ash from the explosion of Mount St. Helens.

In an international city such as Washington, Amos said, it is gratifying to see visitors’ reactions when they see a small representation of their home country or heritage represented in the cathedral’s collection. “Our goal is for everyone to stop, look, learn and be blessed by these incredibly varied representations of Christ’s birth,” she said.  “It is perhaps even more gratifying when people literally see this great story of God’s love in a new way and are moved again by a story they know so well.”

The cathedral’s visitors’ book is filled with comments from adults and many children responding to the question: “Which is your favorite crèche and why?”

A bright and joyous “pesebre” from Brazil comes complete with a gray “cave,” topped with a sparkling silver Star of Bethlehem.

“We have received answers that are funny, moving, profound, passionate and silly, which is why we do this exhibit every year,” Amos said. “We want people to engage with the story of Christ’s birth, to feel its wonder and power, to see themselves represented at the manger, to see this ancient, great story in a new light and, most importantly, to feel included in the great mystery of God’s love.”

The exhibit can be seen through Jan. 16. It is open to the public whenever the cathedral’s crypt level is open, usually during general visiting hours. Due to the busy holiday schedule, visitors are encouraged to visit the website, cathedral.org, to check on availability.

Becoming C.S. Lewis

By Retta Blaney

A woman in her early 20s came up to Max McLean after a performance of his latest one-man play, “C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert,” and said she could not possibly be a Christian.

Sensing her anxiety, McLean told her, “God has you in his net, and he’s not going to let you go.” Her response surprised him: “What should I do?” He recommended that she read the Gospel of John, and he gave her his card, and they arranged a time to talk further.

Such is the intensity of the story McLean has written. One production took place last spring off-Broadway in New York. “People [make] associations that get in the way, and they can’t get past them. Theater and art have a way of breaking through stigmas,” he said, quoting Lewis’s notion of “stealing past the watchful dragons.”

“His conversion is a roadmap for people who have given up.”

Lewis has been important to McLean’s life since he, too, was in his early 20s. He grew up Roman Catholic in a military family. First Communion and confirmation were meaningful to him, but as a teenager he stopped attending church and “fell into atheism, more by anger than anything else.”

He experimented with Eastern religions in college, in keeping with the trend of the 1970s. Then he met the woman who would become his wife. She took him to church and introduced him to other Christians, one of whom described Jesus as having been a historical person just like George Washington. This triggered in McLean a sense that Jesus was something more than the “fairy-tale character” he had grown up imagining.

The first thing he did was read the Gospel of John. His second choice was Lewis’ “Surprised by Joy,” which he described as “over my head,” followed by “The Screwtape Letters,” which he “got immediately.”

McLean continues to respect the way Lewis opens his readers to the supernatural world, something he thinks the modern church, in its desire to simplify and demystify, misses.

“Lewis is my spiritual guide,” McLean said in a telephone interview. “He helps me understand reality in a way I wouldn’t see or understand. He believed so strongly in how the supernatural world interacts with ours. He triggers my imagination in a way almost no other writer does.”

Deciding to portray that spiritual guide onstage was a natural progression for the actor and playwright. He had previously adapted and performed “The Screwtape Letters” and “The Great Divorce” for the stage. In doing so, he read extensively among works by and about Lewis.

“In 2011, the idea came to me to attempt to tell his own story,” McLean said. He spent two or three months working on a first draft, then put it away for about four years. Then he began working on it through “a hefty development process” that included labs and workshops before the show premiered in April 2016 in Washington, D.C. It then played Chicago and had a brief Midwestern tour before the New York show.

About 90 percent of the 80-minute script consists of Lewis’s words.

“I’m not as smart as he was,” McLean says. “My confidence comes from knowing what an extraordinary writer he was.”

The play, performed without an intermission, is set in Lewis’s study at Magdalen College, Oxford, England, in 1950 and tells the story of his life, from the time of his mother’s death from cancer when he was 10, through his estranged relationship with his father, his fighting in World War I, his avowed atheism and his conversion to Christianity.

“Conversion stories are inherently dramatic,” McLean says. “It’s something you fight against. The tension is almost like an invasion. In Christian language, we’re all rebels. The Incarnation is a kind of invasion, taking back enemy territory.”

He said the play’s title helps attract more than just Lewis fans because it is intriguing. “Convert means to change, and reluctant means to avoid. That was the guiding principle to the piece.” He said he needed to set up why Lewis was an atheist: his mother’s death, his relationship with his father and his being wounded in the war.

“That gave him an extremely pessimistic view of reality. To turn from that was very challenging.” McLean identified the fulcrum of the play as the tension between atheism and theism. “Once I knew how I wanted to go, I knew what to take out and what to put in.”

With the help of a three-piece suit, pipe and a wig of thinning, combed-back hair, McLean transforms into Lewis and tells his story to the audience. In preparation for the “forest of words to navigate,” he listened to three audio clips he found online. In one, Lewis sounds “almost Alfred Hitchcockish.” In the others, he is more relaxed. “He was Irish but he took on an Oxford don pronunciation that was very erudite and educated.”

In preparing for and portraying Lewis, McLean says the “number-one thing” he has learned was about the author’s “generosity of spirit.”

“He was a strange mixture of being incredibly self-reflective and not taking himself too seriously. He had self-deprecating humor. His basic nature was to be very proud and arrogant, and he buried that.

“I feel like I know him. I feel like he’s my buddy. With so many writers, you get to the bottom of them quickly. You don’t get to the bottom of Lewis.”

McLean attributes this to deep insight.

“He read everything from the Greeks to the moderns, and he could remember everything. He was a chronicler of literature who was able to see how the Christian view of the world best absorbed all the worldviews he read.”

Retta Blaney is an award-winning journalist and author of “Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors.”

 

This story originally was published in The Living Church and is reprinted with permission.

Participatory art installation provides opportunity for reflection

By Genevieve Razim and Torie Ludwin

For the season of Lent, Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston, Texas, mounted a participatory art installation with permission from artist Candy Chang titled “Before I Die …”

While grieving a loved one, Chang bought an abandoned house in New Orleans in 2011. She covered the sides with ply-board, painted them with chalkboard paint and then stenciled row after row of the following prompt:

“Before I die I want to… __________________.”

She set out baskets of colored chalk and walked away. Soon the boards filled with hundreds, and then thousands of responses scrawled in chalk: Before I die I want to… see my daughter graduate, abandon all insecurities, get my wife back, eat all the candy and sushi in the world, be a YouTube sensation, straddle the International Date Line, tell my mother I love her, be completely myself.

Since then, 1,000-plus Before I Die walls have been created in more than 35 languages and more than 70 countries, including Kazakhstan, Iraq, Haiti, China, Ukraine, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Argentina and South Africa.

At Christ Church Cathedral, chalkboard panels were installed outside the church’s gates along Texas Avenue, one of downtown Houston’s major thoroughfares, accompanied by buckets of chalk.

Parishioners and passersby were invited to reflect on their mortality and then respond by adding their hopes and aspirations to the wall. While the panels filled quickly, rain washed away messages and left room for people to write anew.

The participatory artwork provided an opportunity for Lenten self-reflection and created a way to connect with downtown neighbors and residents.   n

 

The Rev. Genevieve Razim is canon for welcome and evangelism and Torie Ludwin is minister for communication at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston. A version of this article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of The Bulletin of Christ Church Cathedral.

Sacks examines ‘altruistic evil’ and oppression of the ‘Other’

Review by John Arkelian

When religion turns men into murderers, God weeps. … Too often in the history of religion, people have killed in the name of the God of life, waged war in the name of the God of peace, hated in the name of the God of love and practiced cruelty in the name of the God of compassion,” writes Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.”

The poisonous persistence of man’s inhumanity to man is inextricably rooted in our propensity, eagerness even, to see the world in terms of “Us” and “Them,” he said. In his new book, Sacks examines “altruistic evil”: “evil committed in a sacred cause, in the name of high ideals,” which turns “ordinary people into cold-blooded murderers of schoolchildren.” Hatred motivated by religion, he says, may be the most pernicious:  It encourages us to demonize the other and to do monstrous things in the name of the good.

A distinguished scholar, Sacks writes about the three great monotheistic religions that claim common lineage to Abraham.  It’s an apt canvas to reflect on the psychological and sociological origins of evil — and to propose “a theology of the Other,” which posits that violence done in the name of religion is sacrilege and that we are instead called upon by our Creator to love not just our neighbor but also the stranger.

“It is not difficult to love your neighbor as yourself because in many respects your neighbor is like yourself,” Sacks says.  “He or she belongs to the same nation, the same culture, the same economy, the same political dispensation, the same fate of peace or war. … What is difficult is loving the stranger.”

 

Relationship of Episcopal, Chinese churches strengthened through visit

By Lynette Wilson Episcopal News Service

Building friendships and strengthening relationships characterized Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s first official visit to Asia and Southeast Asia in February. The trip included a visit to China, where he and his staff met with government officials and leaders of the Protestant Christian Church.

“At its root, the Christian way is a way of relationship in Christ. Jesus said, ‘Wherever two or three gather together in my name, there I am,’” said Curry, in an interview with ENS in Shanghai, when asked why it’s important for the Episcopal Church to maintain close ties with China.

“The New Testament talks about the body of Christ, not the individuals of Christ. When we talk about being one holy catholic and apostolic church, [we talk about] a worldwide network of people who are committed to and in relationship with Jesus Christ and, therefore, through him, with each other.”

During his trip to Anglican Communion provincial churches and the Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan, Curry visited China at the invitation of the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). He attended meetings in Beijing and Shanghai, where he met with the minister of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), the Chinese government agency that oversees religious practice, and CCC/TSPM leaders, including Elder Fu Xianwei.

Peter Ng, the Episcopal Church’s officer for Asia and the Pacific, now retired; the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church; the Rev. David Copley, director of global partnerships and mission personnel; Neva Rae Fox, the church’s public affairs officer; and Sharon Jones, executive assistant to the presiding bishop, accompanied Curry on the Feb. 15-27 trip that included stops in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The CCC and TSPM form the official, government-sanctioned Protestant church in China. “Three-Self” stands for self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating. TSPM serves as a liaison between churches and government, while CCC focuses on church affairs.

SARA serves as a bridge between religion and the central government and coordinates relationships among religions to make them all equal. Besides overseeing the TSPM, SARA oversees an additional four sanctioned religious groups: Muslims, Roman Catholics, Buddhists and Taoists.

Episcopal Migration Ministries: Offering hope and help to the most vulnerable

Two years ago, Episcopal Journal marked the 75th anniversary of Episcopal Migration Ministries by highlighting stories of former refugees now resettled in the United States, finding new hope and building productive lives. The Journal again offers several of these stories, along with new profiles.

Abdullatif
a syrian kitchen

For Abdullatif Dalati, hospitality runs in the family. When he was a child, his father owned a restaurant in Syria, their home country. Dalati later took over ownership, eventually owning four restaurants in Aleppo and Alrka.

In 2014, Dalati, his wife Fatima and their six children fled Syria for Turkey. They applied for refugee status with the United Nations and requested resettlement through the U.S. State Department.

Kentucky Refugee Ministries, an affiliate of Episcopal Migration Ministries, welcomed them to Louisville. Members of the Muslim Community Center joined with the affiliate to co-sponsor a team to support the family.

Before the Dalatis arrived, the team gathered furnishings and household items for their home, including lots of kitchenware for the former restaurant owner. In Kentucky, to find the ingredients they need for their traditional Syrian recipes, the family sometimes visits multiple grocery stores.

People are encouraging Dalati to open a Syrian restaurant in Louisville. “This is one of my goals,” Dalati said. “I need to be financially stable first.”

He has begun his first job in the United States, working full time at Ingram Micro, an electronics company. His third-shift hours allow him to help his family of eight.

Meanwhile, Dalati invites new friends to his home to share a meal. He cooked for more than 30 at a Syrian community gathering and prepared food for another event at the Westport Road Islamic Center. “Eastern food, Western food… I can prepare this! It is a victory for me, seeing how happy people are with the food,” Dalati said.

Ghilain
learning language

When Ghilain Masudi arrived in Lexington, Ky., in July 2015 with his family as Congolese refugees after living in Burundi, he faced an extra hurdle in adjusting to life in the United States: He is deaf.

With only some literacy in French and Swahili sign language, he found communicating with anyone outside his family very difficult. After working with Kentucky Refugee Ministries, an affiliate of Episcopal Migration Ministries, Masudi and his family decided he should attend Kentucky School for the Deaf  in Danville, about 60 miles from Lexington. He enrolled in September 2015 and now lives in Danville at school during the week, coming home to Lexington on weekends and holidays to be with his family.

Melissa Cantrell, the director of special education at the school, has watched Masudi’s transformation. “His language [skills have] already exploded,” she said. “His personality is coming out more … He was quiet and reserved at first.”

The school created a program to meet one of his special needs — acquiring American Sign Language (ASL). For the first few weeks, Masudi had one-on-one instruction on the basics of English and ASL. He started full-time classes in November 2015.

As the school’s first refugee student, Masudi has thrived. “I hear nothing but great things. He seems really happy,” said Cantrell.

Now that he has communication skills in English, French, and Swahili, Masudi’s teachers hope that he will be able to graduate. On a recent visit to the refugee ministries office, he used his developing ASL skills.

“I go to school at [Kentucky School for the Deaf], learning English, playing with and laughing with other deaf students all together,” he signed. “I play basketball. Playing and talking makes me smile.”

Singla
a special gift

After living in a refugee camp for 23 years, Singla moved to the United States from Nepal at age 61 to start a new life with her family.

Not long after her arrival, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Since then, she’s endured chemotherapy treatments, doctor appointments, hospital visits, mountains of paperwork and the loss of her hair.

But Singla is not alone on her journey. She has her family – and a new skill.

Singla cannot read or write in her native Nepali. After being deprived of education previously, however, Singla has learned to write her name in English. Now she can sign medical forms needed for her cancer treatments.

Singla also has a beautiful, hand-knit hat that she wears with pride to cover the loss of her hair. These two seemingly small things are tokens of another gift that Singla received when she came to the United States.

Singla was matched with a volunteer English as a Second Language tutor through the English at Home Program with New American Pathways, an Atlanta affiliate of Episcopal Migration Ministries.

Each week, tutors Carol Hamilton and Cheryl McIntosh came to Singla’s home to work with her and her daughter-in-law, Sukmati, on their English. In the months before Singla’s diagnosis, Carol helped Singla learn the English alphabet, how to introduce herself and how to write her name.

The tutors became close friends of the family, and McIntosh knit the hat for Singla. “The teachers are like family,” Singla said.

Sowdo
to follow a dream

In Somalia, said Sowdo, “people don’t want women to be journalists. They think we should just sit home, get married and have a bunch of kids.” Sowdo’s love of soccer led her to dream of being a radio sports reporter. She got a job calling games on a sports radio show (she was the only woman doing such work there) and interviewing players. “I loved it. But some people didn’t. I got threats. People don’t want women to speak. In Somalia, people will try to kill you for speaking out,” she said. After two of her colleagues were killed in a car bombing, Sowdo decided she had to leave. Resettled in Columbus, Ohio, she received help from EMM affiliate Community Refugee & Immigration Services. “To be a journalist in America, you need a resumé, so I have to start at the bottom again and work my way back up. It can be difficult, but that is why I am here, to work hard and make a place for myself. I couldn’t do it without the people I’ve met.”

Wahab
feeling safe

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003. After troops were withdrawn several years later, Iraqis such as Abdulwahab Alabid, who worked for a U.S. government contractor, received death threats. “Nobody wants to flee his country,” Wahab said. “When you feel danger, it’s like your house is burning. You leave your house from a window or from the door.” Wahab believed he had to get his family to safety. They were resettled in Chattanooga, Tenn., with the help of EMM affiliate Bridge Refugee Services. Through the Bridge office, Wahab found a job in an Amazon.com fulfillment center and his family worked to fix up a house. “My daughter wants to be an engineer. My [older] son is doing a GED [high school equivalency diploma] and wants to go to university. My little son has picked up the language [English] very fast. It’s great to remind people that the American dream is still alive. It’s just how far you want to reach for it,” Wahab said.

Sergio
a new start

After war between ethnic factions in the former Yugoslavia broke out in 1991, teenager Sergio Plecas fled with his mother from refugee camp to refugee camp. “My family lost everything. Being homeless for so many years, I was starting to lose hope. I literally didn’t belong anywhere,” he said. After four years, he and his mother received permission to emigrate to the United States, where they settled in Chattanooga, Tenn., and received help from EMM affiliate Bridge Refugee Services. Since Plecas had training as a videographer, Marina Peshterianu of Bridge accompanied him to job interviews at local television stations. He found work as a creative director at WTCI, the local PBS affiliate, where a documentary he filmed on wild mustang horses won an Emmy award. “His work is second to none,” said WTCI president Paul Grove. In 2008, Plecas became a U.S. citizen. He married, and he and his wife had a baby boy. “He received his birth certificate. He belongs [somewhere] from the start,” said Plecas.   n

Sharmake
making a friend

When Sharmake Muse, whose family left Somalia due to civil war, arrived in Minneapolis, he saw something new. “I’ve never seen snow. I saw every place is white,” he said.

Not only did he need a winter coat, he needed a friend. EMM’s affiliate agency, the Minnesota Council of Churches, partners newly arriving refugees with interested members of the community who provide welcome and friendship to the newcomers.

Linda O’Malley, a member of St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in neighboring St. Paul, noted that Muse left Somalia as a child and was growing up in refugee camps in Kenya when his family was resettled in the United States.

She showed Muse “how to navigate this culture, go to the post office, navigate the bus schedule, how to take books out of the library.”

Muse wants to become a doctor and now works in a nurse-assistant program. “I feel Minneapolis is my home. I don’t feel like a foreigner,” he said.

O’Malley said she has “grown personally with helping through refugee resettlement.”

Benjamin
teaching others

After leaving Rwanda, site of a genocidal civil war in the 1990s, Benjamin Rutikanga was resettled in Boise, Idaho — a community very different from central Africa.

“I saw the town was different, the people are different. When a refugee comes, he comes with nothing. He needs someone to help him,” said Rutikanga.

Boise, a city of about 215,000, made a commitment to welcoming refugees. With the involvement of EMM affiliate partner Agency for New Americans, it developed a community strategic plan. It included a program that helps refugees integrate with the community by teaching them how to drive.

Doug Pottenger owns the All About Safe Driving school. He had never worked with a refugee before, but he discovered that Rutikanga was bicycling to work even in winter. He taught Rutikanga to drive, then hired him to teach other newcomers. “It’s something I love, because it is helping people from step to step,” said Rutikanga.

“Benjamin has taught me a lot,” Pottenger said. “He’s taught me how to love and how to care and how to just be a good person.”

Former executive files lawsuit against Episcopal Church, alleging conspiracy

By Episcopal Journal

Bishop Stacy Sauls, former chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, on Jan. 20 filed a lawsuit in an Alabama circuit court against the church, seeking damages in connection with his departure from that position.

In the suit, Sauls alleges he was “the victim of a wrongful conspiracy via a calculated, determined, and prolonged series of acts … as carried out by individuals employed by the church, and others outside the employment of the church.”

Thirty other defendants are cited in the suit as participating in a “scheme to elevate the stature and authority of the president of the church’s House of Deputies [the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings]” that also was calculated “to undermine the authority, stature, and leadership” of Sauls as COO.

The 30 defendants are identified only as “John Does.” The suit says that Sauls, as plaintiff, “is unable to identify the John Doe defendants and expects to be able to do so in the discovery phase of this litigation.”

The suit notes that Sauls was appointed chief operating officer in May 2011, took office on Sept. 1, 2011, and “was terminated, on or about April 4, 2016.”

In December 2015, Sauls, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Samuel McDonald and Director of Public Engagement Alex Baumgarten were placed on administrative leave as “a result of concerns that have been raised about possible misconduct,” according to a statement made at the time from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

In April 2016, Curry announced that McDonald and Baumgarten had violated the church’s workplace standards in terms of their “personal conduct in their relationships with employees” and had been terminated. Sauls, the announcement also said, had not violated those standards or known of the other staffers’ actions, but nevertheless would not continue as COO.

Sauls alleges in the lawsuit that Curry told him during a private meeting between them on April 4 that “things are too broken” and that “there were people who wanted your head.” Sauls also claims Curry never discussed the allegations against him, McDonald and Baumgarten. He further alleges that his reputation has been damaged and he has been unable to find employment since April 2016.

On Feb. 8, 2017, Curry and Jennings jointly released a letter to Episcopal Church staff stating that they had informed the church’s Executive Council of the suit.

The letter said that, at the time of Sauls’ dismissal, “the presiding bishop, in consultation with legal counsel, tried his best to negotiate a severance,” but Sauls did not accept the offer. “The presiding bishop, as a steward of church resources, felt that he could not go beyond that offer and explain it in good conscience to the church,” the letter said, according to the church’s Department of Public Affairs.

In the joint statement, Curry and Jennings said they would not comment on the litigation but were “united in our desire to resolve this suit as quickly and compassionately as possible” and were “committed to working together to create a church culture that follows the loving, liberating and life-giving way of Jesus.”

The suit seeks unspecified damages, back wages and other forms of relief.

A sculptor and a parish receive international recognition

By Jerry Hames

A Virginia sculptor renowned nationally for her work and an Episcopal church nestled in California’s Carmel Valley have received international recognition for outstanding creativity and design in this year’s Religious Art and Architecture Design Awards program.

The two Episcopal award winners were chosen from among 135 entries worldwide that included submissions from Christian, Jewish and Muslim architects, artists, liturgical designers and students from North and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Faith & Form Magazine and the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, a knowledge community of the American Institute of Architects, co-sponsor the award program.

 

A new interpretation

“My first reaction was ‘wow!’” said Margaret Adams Parker of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va., whose sculptures often deal with social-justice themes. Her work is in the collection of the U.S. Library of Congress, on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral and Duke Divinity School, and in many churches, including St. Mary’s.

“Once I had absorbed the news, I was, and continue to be, immensely grateful,” she said. “I feel blessed to be called to this work of interpreting Scripture visually, work that I compare with the task of the preacher. I am conscious of standing in a long tradition of the visual arts as a handmaid to faith, a tradition that I honor and hope to carry forward.”

Parker’s work, “Mary as Prophet,” offers a new interpretation of the Visitation, the meeting between Mary with her cousin Elizabeth as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. The sculpture depicts Mary tense with prophecy, her focus turned inward.  Elizabeth moves toward Mary, bending and reaching forward to support her.

Mary and Elizabeth, shown as African women, embody the ties of Virginia Theological Seminary, which commissioned the sculpture, with churches in Africa. The depiction of Mary and Elizabeth as ordinary, rather than idealized, women reminds viewers of the church’s call to “lift up the lowly.”

The award’s citation — “This sculpture takes a radically different approach to the story of Mary and Elizabeth and moves the narrative in a new direction” — underscores Parker’s interpretation. She will receive the award in April at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Architects in Orlando, Fla., where an exhibition at the Orange County Convention Center will showcase the award-winning projects.

“St. Mary’s is delighted that Peggy has been recognized for her work, which echoes the church’s prophetic mission to ‘fill the hungry with good things,’” said the Rev. Andrew T.P. Merrow, rector of St. Mary’s. “We are thankful for the seminary’s commitment to commission such public works of art that have the unique ability to move, impassion and uplift.”

Situated on a terrace against the preserved walls of the seminary’s 1881 chapel and within view of the 2015 chapel, the figures are a significant presence on the campus. Their prominent location underscores one of Dean Ian S. Markham’s goals for the commission — to honor women’s ministries.

California recipient

St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in the heart of California’s Carmel Valley, a center for the arts, received a liturgical-furnishings award in recognition of the installation of a new pipe organ created by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders and of the refurbishing of its worship space. The organ includes 23 stops and 1,008 pipes. It took nearly a year to build it by hand in Lake City, Iowa. Then it took the builders five weeks to assemble Opus 94 on site and another two months for the pipes to be tuned and voiced, John A. Panning, Dobson’s vice president and tonal director, wrote in a recent issue of The American Organist.

“Never intended to house a pipe organ, St. Dunstan’s had been served by an increasingly cranky electronic, whose speakers front and back broadcast a confusing wash of sound. Fitted with carpet, inadequate lighting and pews stained the color of asphalt, the church was not the most visually or aurally welcoming space,” Panning said.

“Our design for an organ standing front-and-center, with recommendations from an acoustic technician, encouraged the parish to beautify its worship space by removing the carpeting and staining the concrete floor, refinishing the pews and installing new LED lighting.”

The revised altar platform, now deeper and constructed of solid concrete rather than plywood, is sheathed in sedimentary stone quarried near Jerusalem in which fossils can be seen. A new Communion rail and an ambo by liturgical artist Jeff Tortorelli complete the chancel.

 

To learn more about Parker and for additional photos, go to MargaretAdamsParker.com.

To learn more about St. Dunstan’s and watch time-lapse video of the installation of the organ, visit saintdunstanschurch.org/organ/.   n

Captions:

Photo/Sherman Chu

Opus 94, a tracker-style pipe organ custom-built for St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Carmel Valley, Calif., is installed in the newly renovated chancel. The church received an international award for church furnishing.

Photos/B. Cayce Ramey

Margaret Adams Parker at work on the sculpture “Mary as Prophet” in a neighbor’s heated studio
in early 2015.

“Mary as Prophet,” a Margaret Adams Parker sculpture on the grounds of Virginia Theological Seminary, won an international honor for its novel depiction of the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth as described in
St. Luke’s Gospel.