Highlights for September

Author uses imagination in researching family history

Review by Mel Schlachter

Some years ago, a prominent American cathedral with lots of visitor traffic reflected on its purpose in opening to tour groups and tourists. Was it just tolerating tourists, or was it in fact welcoming pilgrims who might be in those very groups but find themselves yearning for more than checking off another site? Thinking of pilgrimage changed some of the cathedral’s procedures and the mind-set of its staff and volunteers.

Pilgrimage is nearly back to pre-Reformation levels, and international travel writer and Episcopal deacon the Rev. Lori Erickson is all about teaching pilgrimage in her books and blog.

In her previous book, “Holy Rover,” she takes us to a variety of well-known and scarcely-known “holy places,” writing as a keen observer of the place and of her response to it. She is skilled at guiding the reader in how pilgrimage could work for their own spiritual insight.

Her latest book, “The Soul of the Family Tree,” digs deeper into her intuitive working out of identity by means of both pilgrimage and family of origin research.

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Q&A: Westina Matthews, on authoring ‘This Band of Sisterhood: Black Women Bishops on Race, Faith, and the Church’

By Pat McCaughan
Episcopal News Service

The unique blessings, joys, frustrations, challenges and realities faced by the first five African American women diocesan bishops in the Episcopal Church are explored in candid conversations in “This Band of Sisterhood: Black Women Bishops on Race, Faith, and the Church,” compiled and edited by Westina Matthews.

Matthews, an adjunct professor at the General Theological Seminary’s Center for Christian Spirituality, wrote in an August 1984 New York Times op-ed article of her own sense of loneliness as “the first, the only, or one of the few” Blacks in her academic and professional settings, a feeling she began having as early as age 4 when she was enrolled in a newly desegregated school.

Membership in this “exclusive club” continued throughout a 40-year career in leadership positions as an educator, researcher, grant-maker, public servant and author.

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Highlights for July and August

Who owns a gift to the church?

The Rev. Mark Stanley

By Solange De Santis

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

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

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

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Lambeth to focus on science, climate change

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

By Mark Michael

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

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

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

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Highlights for June

Indiana Episcopalians open state’s first LGBTQ youth shelter

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

Diocese of Indianapolis

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

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

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

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

William Shakespeare

By Anthony D. Baker, The Conversation

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

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

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

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Highlights for May

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

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

By Episcopal Journal

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

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

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

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

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

By Rodolfo Galvan Estrada III
The Conversation

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

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

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

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Highlights for April

The Good Friday Resurrection starts inside us

Sam Candler

By Sam Candler

Editor’s note: this sermon was delivered on Good Friday, April 10, 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In years past, I have preached on Good Friday in the glorious springtime, when the weather was so beautiful, in the fullness of azalea and dogwood blossoms, when people were fancy — when the world was alive and thriving and beautiful!

And, I remember on all those days, how hard it was to put myself into the somber mood of Good Friday. It was hard to talk about the suffering of Jesus when the sun outside was shining so brightly in our lives.

This year, of course, is different. We are living in a tremendous and overwhelming Good Friday. With the COVID-19 pandemic, our world is shut down and living in a global Good Friday.

This was originally published at the Episcopal Café website (www.episcopalcafe.com).

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I Am a Child

Pamela Lewis

By Pamela A. Lewis

Like so many recent samples of footage showing police officers interacting with community residents, this was one that could not be un-seen: In February, the mother of an unidentified 9-year-old Rochester, N.Y. girl had called police because the girl was behaving erratically and was threatening to harm the mother. The officers struggled to get the girl into the police car, and scolded her for disobeying their repeated orders to calm down as she asked for her father. As the girl’s behavior escalated, police threatened to pepper spray her, which one of them eventually did, and the action was subsequently captured in newly-released footage. The clip sparked vociferous outrage, and added yet another series of protests to the already large collection against police brutality. Elba Pope, the girl’s mother, said she was preparing to file a lawsuit against the police department.

However, one exchange between an officer and the young girl stood out: “Stop acting like a child,” he told her. “I am a child!” she answered.

This article first appeared in Covenant, the weblog of the Living Church Foundation. Reprinted with permission. https://livingchurch.org/covenant/about/

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Highlights for March

In this time, we stand on the Plain of Waiting


By Richard LeSueur

Beneath the towering umber faces of Mount Sinai lies a broad, empty valley called the Plain of Waiting. Bounded by peaks that rise sharply out of the south Sinai, the Plain of Waiting is where tradition says the people of Israel waited and waited in a howling desolation. Dislocated from familiar things, reduced to a marginal existence, they grew more and more anxious. To their leader Moses they repeatedly cried, “Did you bring us out into this wilderness that we might die?”  

To be alive in this time of global pandemic is to occupy a “plain of waiting.” We wait for a vaccine. We wait for the number of active cases to reduce. We wait for the end of a “second wave.” We wait for the easing of restrictions. We wait.

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New Lent and Easter resources are available

Episcopal Church Public Affairs Office

New and updated Lent and Easter resources for congregations, dioceses, and communities of faith are available from the Episcopal Church, including Updated Life Transformed: The Way of Love in Lent curriculum; Sermons That Work for Holy Week and Easter; a new podcast series, Prophetic Voices: Preaching and Teaching Beloved Community.

Life Transformed: The Way of Love in Lent: The journey through Lent into Easter is a journey with Jesus. We are baptized into his life, self-giving, and death, then we rise in hope to life transformed. …

Prophetic Voices: Preaching and Teaching Beloved Community: This new podcast series is hosted by the Rev. Isaiah “Shaneequa” Brokenleg, Episcopal Church staff officer for Racial Reconciliation. Across our church and our society, we are having profound dialogues about race, truth, justice, and healing.

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Highlights for February

Inspired by Cranmer, Lenten program
combines daily worship and Bible study
Thomas Cranmer was a leader of the 16th century English Reformation. Photo/National Portrait Gallery, London

By Sharon Sheridan

A Lenten program created by a liturgy professor and priest offers a way for congregations to study the Bible within the context of worship and community in a quintessentially Anglican way.

“I’ve always been really drawn to the preface that [Thomas] Cranmer wrote to his first prayer book,” said the Rev. Kevin Moroney, liturgy professor and chapel director at General Theological Seminary in New York and priest-in-residence at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Clifton, N.J.

“What he explained in this preface is really that the Holy Scriptures can be learned by reading them, book by book, continuously nestled within the arms of the daily prayers, morning and evening,” he said. And, when they do so, Cranmer wrote, clergy and laity “become inflamed with the love of God’s true religion.

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Book offers hope in journey through Lent

Review by Jerry Hames

What better time during the isolation caused by physically distancing from family and friends during the pandemic, coupled with the desire to drive away the winter’s cold, than to pick up a book that takes us through the solemnity of the Lenten season, offering a promise of hope for the days ahead?

The Stations of the Cross is a devotional practice that originated in the early centuries of Christianity. Pilgrims who could not actually walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem — the “sorrowful road” that it is believed Jesus took from Pilate’s judgment hall to Golgotha to face his crucifixion — were able to simulate this experience by meditating upon a series of images.

This noteworthy book, a collaboration between Margaret Adams Parker, an artist, and Katherine Sounderegger, a preacher, both faculty members at Virginia Theological Seminary, leads readers through the traditional 14 Stations.

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Highlights for January

As heavenly bodies converge, many ask: Is the Star of Bethlehem making a comeback?

The painting, “Adoration of the Magi,” by Giotto, in Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy shows the Star of Bethlehem as a comet. Photo/Wikiart.org

By Eric M. Vanden Eykel
On Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn crossed paths in the night’s sky and for a brief moment, they appearws to shine together as one body. While planetary conjunctions like this are not everyday events, they also are not particularly rare.

This year’s conjunction is different for at least two reasons. The first is the degree to which the two planets will be aligned. According to experts, they appeared closer during this conjunction than they have in nearly eight centuries and also brighter.

But the second factor, and the one that has thrust this event into the spotlight, is that it occured on the winter solstice, just before the Christmas holiday. The timing has led to a speculation whether this could be the same astronomical event that the Bible reports led the wise men to Joseph, Mary and the newly born Jesus — the Star of Bethlehem.

As a scholar of early Christian literature writing a book on the three wise men, I argue that this planetary conjunction is likely not the fabled Star of Bethlehem. The biblical story of the star is intended to convey theological rather than historical or astronomical truths.

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Why I still watch ‘Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown’

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown was featured on 2015 US postage stamps

By Pamela A. Lewis
Like many Americans of my generation, I have been a big fan of “Peanuts,” the cartoon created by the late Charles Schulz. As a kid, I impatiently awaited the delivery of the Sunday papers so I could turn immediately to the page where Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and their motley group of friends held court and made me and my parents laugh at their amusing adventures and experiences.

I loved each of the main characters because of the way Schulz designed their physical characteristics: Lucy’s big gaping mouth that either bossed others or was Snoopy’s target for one of his dreaded sloppy wet “kisses”; Charlie Brown with his nearly bald pate and woe-is-me expression; or the rumpled Pig Pen, who was eternally surrounded in a cloud of dust. By some mysterious alchemy, Schulz gave his characters personalities that were at turns irritating and endearing.

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Highlights for December

In the year of the pandemic, a printmaker seeks to honor those we have lost

By Jerry Hames
Troubled by thoughts of the increasing pandemic death toll across the nation, the Rev. Mark Harris, a retired Episcopal priest and creative printmaker, struggled with how he could memorialize those who had fallen victim to COVID-19.

“I was trying to work out how to make real the number of those who had died, how to make it something I could handle, make manifest in some sort of art object,” he said.

Unexpectedly, the answer came in a dream. “What came to me was the idea of a book in which each person who had died would be tallied with a mark of some sort, and the whole collection of those marks would be a book of many pages. I decided to have the book represent all the American dead from January to November 1. The book would be completed and added to the remembering on All Saints Day,” he said.

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Desire for church reform led to Mayflower voyage

Review by Chip Prehn
More recently than I ought to admit, a distinguished schoolmaster taught me the difference between a New England Puritan and a New England Pilgrim. In his 1996 history of Roxbury Latin School, F. Washington Jarvis notes that John Eliot (1604-90), the founder of that oldest and still superlative American school (1645), considered himself a member of the Church of England.

How could this be, since Eliot lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony? The answer is that Eliot and most other members of the Bay Colony were bent on reforming the Anglican Church, refashioning the established church along the lines of what the New Testament persuaded them was correct.

But unlike the Puritans, the Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Plantation 10 years before the Bay Colony, in 1620, were separatists. Separatists were not interested in an established church at all. Whether governed by bishops or presbyters, they rejected establishment altogether in favor of local churches governed by the people. It is of the English progenitors of the Pilgrims that Stephen Tompkins writes in “The Journey to the Mayflower.”

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Highlights for November

Renewing our citizenship, faithfully

By Kate Beeby
Exhausted by our political circumstance? Terrified as our brokenness, selfishness and crass disregard crushes the cornerstone of our democracy into unstable footing? Maybe we need to get away. Perhaps Canada — though it’s not clear that our friendly neighbors to north will have us.
Perhaps times like this call for another kind of journey. I’ve read that the act of pilgrimage is a prayer — costly, time-consuming, arduous — a purposeful and sacred expedition. The bishop of the Diocese of Texas, C. Andrew Doyle, expresses his autobiography in a scant, yet compelling, six words: “Met Jesus on pilgrimage, still walking.”
In his most recent book, “Citizen, Faithful Discipleship in a New World,” he invites us on another trek in this critical election year.

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Finding joy in 2020? It’s not such an absurd idea, really

Angela Gorrell

By Angela Gorrell
The year 2020 hasn’t been one to remember — in fact, for a lot of people it has been an outright nightmare. The pandemic, along with political turmoil and social unrest, has brought anxiety, heartbreak, righteous anger and discord to many.
Amid such suffering, people need some joy.
As a scholar who has investigated the role of joy in day-to-day life, I believe that joy is an incredibly powerful companion during suffering.

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