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As EYE17 closes, ‘peacemakers’ make a path home

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 4:46pm

More than 1,300 teenagers gathered as the sun was setting at the Oklahoma City National Memorial on July 12 for a candlelight vigil. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Edmond, Oklahoma] As the sun began to set July 12 on Oklahoma City, Episcopal youth assembled by diocese and processed from St. Paul’s Cathedral four blocks south on North Robinson Avenue to the Oklahoma City National Memorial for a candlelight vigil.

The vigil followed an earlier visit to the memorial’s museum, which traces the timeline beginning 30 minutes before the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people and wounded 680 others, through the 2001 execution of Timothy McVeigh.

“The way that it’s set up, you move through time and it’s a stunning thing,” said Kiera Campbell, 16, an Episcopal Youth Event 2017 planning committee member from the Diocese of Olympia. “It’s amazing to see how a city pulled together and how a city was able to find peace in each other.”

Thirteen hundred youth from 90 of the Episcopal Church’s 109 dioceses attended the 13th annual Episcopal Youth Event from July 10 to 14 at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, a 20-minute drive from downtown Oklahoma City. The Beatitudes, particularly Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the Peacemakers for they will be called children of God,” – inspired EYE17’s theme, “Path to Peace.” (Absent were some youth from Province IX, the Latin America- and Caribbean-based dioceses, who were denied visas into the United States.)

Teenagers attending the Episcopal Youth Event 2017 in Edmond, Oklahoma, visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum on July 12. Here, they visit the Gallery of Honor, where photos of the 168 people, including 19 children, hang on the walls. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The night before the museum visit and vigil, bombing survivors shared their personal experiences with the youth during an on-campus plenary session. During the candlelight vigil, the youth sat cross-legged on the grass opposite 168 empty chairs – 19 smaller chairs for children – representing each of the victims. A reflecting pool set between two pillars marked 9:01 and 9:03 isolated the minute, 9:02 a.m., that the truck bomb exploded, destroying the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

It was the history, but more importantly, the human response and its lasting impact that Oklahoma Bishop Ed Konieczny wanted the youth to experience. The bombing, he said, brought together the people of Oklahoma in a spirit of unity, in what became the “Oklahoma Standard,” that continues today.

“If you come to Oklahoma and you become an Oklahoman [the story] becomes a part of who you are because in many ways it was a huge turning point, not only for Oklahoma City but for the state,” said Konieczny, a priest in Texas at the time of the bombing. “It was an unfortunate way for things to go, but it energized and brought to light all the good of the people in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma… and it didn’t stop.”

Photos of the victims hang in the Gallery of Honor, the last exhibit, at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Even though the youth weren’t yet born in 1995 – they range in age from 13 to 18 – they live in an increasingly violent world. For that reason, Konieczny wanted to co-host EYE17 in his diocese and share Oklahoma City’s story as an example of peace and resilience.

“The event is relevant because it helps them see all of the other things that happen in our world and our society and the other incidences of violence that take place, Columbine or Virginia Tech or Florida. It seems like every day there is something else, some big, some minor,” he said. “I hope the story is that we as a society have to do something about this. And they have the ability to do that … The message of this is not going to be the bomb. The message of this is life, and that we are going to put our faith where our faith needs to be, and we are going to stand up for justice and say, no, we are not going to live this way, we’re going to do something different.”

Responding to violence and hatred with love was packed into the Path to Peace message.

“The reality is that hatred doesn’t work and violence doesn’t work. Human beings were made by love, because I believe that God is love, and we were made to love and life only works when we love. And this memorial is a painful reminder that hatred hurts and harms, and we weren’t made for that,” said Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, at the site of the memorial. “We’ve been put on this earth to find a better way. To find life and love for everybody, and so coming to this memorial and being here this day is an opportunity to be reconsecrated and rededicated to creating a world where love rules.”

There was some fun at EYE17. Here, the Rev. Tim Schenck, left, rector of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, and the Rev. Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement, sit by while Sierra Palmer of the Diocese of Kansas casts a vote for one of two saints. Saint Quiteria defeated Saint Longinus, 72 percent to 28 percent, and will be included in Lent Madness 2018. The rest of the saints in next year’s bracket will be announced in November. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

A year ago, the 16-member EYE17 youth planning committee visited Oklahoma City and the museum and memorial, to get a sense of what their peers would experience. Immediately, it was clear that Oklahoma City’s story is one “everyone needs to hear,” Andres Gonzalez Bonilla, 16, of the Diocese of Arizona, who served on liturgy and music planning team. The city’s response to an act of domestic terrorism is a “tragic, but beautiful, moving story.”

“The EYE mission planning team started imaging what this event might be like over 18 months ago. They based the event in Matthew’s scripture and the Beatitudes,” said Bronwyn Clark Skov, the Episcopal Church’s director of formation, youth and young adults, who oversees youth ministry. “We are very much taken with that entire package, but also because of what has been happening in the world, we really honed in on ‘blessed are the peacemakers.’”

The triennial youth event, a mandate of the church’s General Convention, drew 1,400 people in all, including 35 bishops, as well as chaperones, chaplains, medical and other volunteers. Every preacher, speaker, exhibitor and praxis session presented the theme in one way or another.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached and presided during the opening Eucharist of EYE17. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

Curry preached during the July 11 opening Eucharist and later that day offered two back-to-back workshops on the “Jesus Movement,” followed by a question-and-answer period. Other speakers, including President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, bishops, Episcopal Church staff members, representatives from Episcopal Relief & Development, Forma, Episcopal Service Corps and others, offered workshops ranging from advocacy to nonviolent communication in a violent world to living in intentional communities as a path to peace.

“I think that ‘Path to Peace’ has been articulated in many different ways during this event, and my hope is that it has been contagious enough so that when all of the young people who go home from this event start telling the story of what they experienced here and what they learned here that they will feel empowered to actually act upon their own good and right and God-gifted inclination to do something,” said Skov.

During a press conference on July 11, Trevor Mahan of the Diocese of Kansas, a member of the planning committee, said the youth intentionally designed the event to introduce youth to church leadership and the wider Episcopal Church, offering ways to engage further at all levels.

Mahan’s planning team colleague, Campbell, of the Diocese of Olympia, concurred.

“We want people to be able to go back home and connect with other Episcopal organizations,” she said, and bring back the Path to Peace message to encourage other youth to become involved.

Konieczny sees real hope in today’s young people, who are far more inclusive than previous generations. The makeup of EYE17, the most diverse group ever, attested to that.

“As I said during my homily at the vigil, today’s young people can make a real difference in the world,” he said.

“They are at that age now where they’re setting the stage for how their generation is going to live together, and you can already see the level of acceptance, inclusion and willingness to live in diversity and honor each other. And that’s not always been the case for generations that have gone before; it’s this is us, that’s them and let’s just keep our distance,” said Konieczny.

Plans for EYE20 are underway, and with the help of a Constable Fund grant, the Episcopal Church plans to hold the event in Latin America.

-Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service.

RIP: The Rev. Reynolds Smith Cheney II, former General Convention committee chair

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 11:37am

[Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee] The Rev. Reynolds Smith Cheney II, longtime General Convention deputy and Convention committee chair, died July 10 after a lengthy illness.

He served for six years as a member of the Executive Council and chaired the State of the Church Committee at General Convention. He took particular satisfaction in coining the expression “the cutting middle” to describe the work of The Episcopal Church in this nation and around the world.

Known for his love and commitment to the church, Reynolds was an insightful theologian, preacher and teacher.  To these gifts for ministry, he brought both critical insights and a ribald wit. He served as a mentor and friend to the many persons who over the years served as his clergy associates and curates and to all who were blessed and entertained to be in his wide circle of friends.

Cheney was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1936 and received a bachelor’s degree from Millsaps College. He attended Episcopal Divinity School and was ordained as deacon by Bishop Duncan Montgomery Gray in 1961 and priest by Bishop John M. Allin in December of that year. Cheney served in the Diocese of Mississippi at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Kosciusko; St. Mary’s Church, Lexington; Grace Church, Carrollton; St. Michael and All Angels, Amory; St. John’s Church, Aberdeen; Church of the Redeemer, Greenville, and St. James Church, Greenville. In The Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee, Cheney served as rector of Church of the Holy Communion in Memphis from 1981 to 2001, when at the time of his retirement he was the senior clergy member in the diocese.

In 1999, Cheney married his wife, Stephanie, a leader herself in the Episcopal Church, having served as lay canon for diocesan administration and finance for the Diocese of West Tennessee, as a member of the Executive Council of the church and currently as a member of the diocesan Standing Committee. Cheney is also survived by his children and grandchildren, who knew him simply as “Big Daddy.”

Bishop Don Johnson, recalling Cheney with deep respect and fondness, invites all to join in remembering Reynolds, Stephanie and their family with prayer and affection. The requiem Eucharist will be offered July 31, at Church of the Holy Communion, Memphis. Visitation will be in Cheney Parish Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and the service will begin at 2 p.m., with interment following.

Podcast: Episcopal youth prepare to take ‘Path to Peace’ message home

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 10:45pm

Episcopal youth gathered for the July 13 plenary session. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Edmond, Oklahoma] On the eve of their departure from Oklahoma, 1,300 youth from across the Episcopal Church began strategizing about how they will take the “Path to Peace” message home.

Have a listen:

Anglican leaders offer support for communities displaced by Canadian wildfires

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 12:43pm

[Anglican Journal] As wildfires rage across British Columbia’s Central Interior, Anglican leaders in the region are doing what they can to support their communities, says Bishop Barbara Andrews of the Central Interior-based Territory of the People.

After weeks of hot, dry weather, the CBC reports that a lightning storm July 7 sparked the fires that have spread across the Central Interior, forcing thousands to leave their homes and causing the province to declare a state of emergency.

Of the 14,000 people who have been evacuated so far, Andrews estimates roughly 1,000 are Anglicans.

Full article.

Podcast: Episcopal youth visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 7:49pm

An EYE17 attendee explores an interactive exhibit during a July 12 visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum as a volunteer chaplain looks on. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Episcopal youth attending the 13th annual Episcopal Youth Event took a field trip to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum on July 12. The memorial and museum honor the victims of the April 19, 1995, bombing and tells the story of that tragic day.

Have a listen.

Listen to day 1 here.

North Dakota bishop raises Maori flag as emblem of Anglican, Episcopal support for indigenous people

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 4:39pm

This Maori Anglican flag hangs in the office of North Dakota Bishop Michael Smith, a gift to Smith from a Maori bishop in 2003. Aotearoa is the Maori word for New Zealand, meaning “land of the long white cloud.” Photo: Michael Smith

[Episcopal News Service] Bishop Michael Smith of the Diocese of North Dakota has carried with him for 14 years a tale of two flags and a piece of New Zealand’s indigenous history that he hopes will live on after he is gone.

Hanging in Smith’s office in Fargo is an Anglican flag of the Maori of New Zealand, a gift he received in 2003 when he was a member of an American delegation attending a meeting of the Anglican Indigenous Network in Rotorua, New Zealand.

Smith was a priest at the time, serving on an American Indian reservation in Minnesota. He was honored to receive the flag but only later learned its full significance – for the Maori, it is the rough equivalent of a flag carried by marchers in the American civil rights movement.

In 1998, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia organized the Hikoi of Hope, a nationwide march to Parliament that was joined by about 40,000 supporters of the indigenous people of New Zealand. The demonstration has been credited with advancing social justice issues in response to the legacy of colonial oppression in the country. The flag Smith received was one of the flags that had been carried by the marchers.

“I knew that it was a significant piece of history,” Smith told Episcopal News Service by phone, and he felt it belonged back in New Zealand. “But it was clear to refuse it would be insulting.”

As a symbol of progress made by native New Zealanders, Smith also holds the flag up as an emblem of the partnerships formed between Anglicans in Aotearoa (the Maori word for New Zealand) and Episcopalians in the United States, as well as the church’s responsibility to advocate for social justice.

“I don’t want it to end up in someone’s office forever,” Smith said. “I want people to know the story and where it really belongs.”

The story of the flag’s march into history began in September 1998. The month-long Hikoi of Hope across the country ended Oct. 1 in Wellington, where the stories of indigenous people’s hardships were delivered to New Zealand’s Parliament.

“The Hikoi called on government to show some leadership and acknowledge poverty as systemic, and exacerbated by benefit cuts, increased rents for state housing, student loans and more,” according to “Tangata Whenua,” a history of New Zealand’s Maori written by Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris. “The Anglican Church’s concern for the poor and disempowered endured, with Maori clergy at both the fore and in the support base of Maori social justice projects.”

Hikoi is a Maori word meaning “walk” or “march.” At the time, the Anglican Church in New Zealand was in the process of giving more autonomy to Maori and Polynesian clergy by raising them up to greater leadership roles, and the Hikoi of Hope mirrored those efforts while putting pressure on the government.

“It kind of put social justice back on the agenda,” said Bishop Don Tamihere of the Tikanga Maori Diocese of Tairawhiti.

Bishop Don Tamihere speaks June 23 during a business session of the Niobrara Convocation at Red Shirt Table, South Dakota. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Tamihere spoke with Episcopal New Service in June while attending the Episcopal Church’s Niobrara Convocation in South Dakota. Tamihere, who was ordained and consecrated as bishop in March, said he was attending theological college in 1998 and participated in the Hikoi of Hope.

By that time, New Zealand’s Anglican province was operating on its present three-partner structure that allows Maori, Polynesians and white New Zealanders to “order their affairs within their own cultural context,” the church explains on its website. In 1998, the Maori dioceses were overseen by Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, who in 2004 would become the first Maori to serve as primate and archbishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Vercoe played host in 2003 when the Anglican Indigenous Network gathered in Rotorua. Members of each delegation were invited to bring flags that represented their native cultures.

Smith, a member of the Potawatomi tribe, is originally from Oklahoma, and he chose to bring that state’s flag, which features the battle shield of an Osage warrior and other Native American icons. The flag made an impression on Vercoe.

“For some reason, he really liked that, he was really drawn to that,” Smith said.

Vercoe asked if he could have Smith’s Oklahoma flag, and Smith gladly offered it. Then Vercoe gave Smith his Maori Anglican flag.

Bishop Michael Smith, rear left, was part of an Episcopal Church delegation to the 2003 meeting of the Anglican Indigenous Network in New Zealand. Smith was a priest in Minnesota at the time. Maori Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe is shown standing in the center in a red shirt. Photo courtesy of Carol Gallagher.

In 2008, after Smith had become bishop of the Diocese of North Dakota, he met the Maori bishops at that year’s Lambeth Conference, and they underscored the flag’s significance but said it would be improper to return such a gift. They suggested, however, that it may be proper to arrange for the flag to be returned to the Maori after Smith’s and Vercoe’s deaths, which is what Smith will do. (Vercoe died in 2007.)

Back in the United States, Smith occasionally brought the flag to certain events and shared its story to emphasize the common struggle of native people across the world.

“There are many issues that are similar for all indigenous people,” Smith said, from the history of colonialism to the experience of living as minorities in one’s homeland to struggles with poverty.

Seeking advancement of Native Americans in society and within the church has been a longtime goal of the Episcopal Church, stemming from the Baptismal Covenant’s call to strive for justice and respect the dignity of all human beings, said the Rev. Bradley S. Hauff, Episcopal Church missioner for indigenous ministries.

“Our indigenous brothers and sisters are all over the world, and that extends to the Anglican Communion and the church in New Zealand,” Hauff told Episcopal News Service. “Relationships like this, like Bishop Smith experienced, I think, are terribly important for us to establish and to honor and celebrate.”

The 145th Niobrara Convocation fostered such connections, as it has nearly every year since 1870. The gathering of Sioux Episcopalians drew several hundred people June 22 to 25 to the tiny Christ Episcopal Church at Red Shirt Table, South Dakota, including Bishops Smith and Tamihere.

Tamihere attended with a six-person Maori delegation as part of a youth missionary group that travels to Red Shirt each year to work on community projects. Smith told Tamihere the story of receiving the flag from Vercoe, and Tamihere agreed that it would be improper for Smith to return such a gift during his lifetime.

But that conversation reminded Smith that he should take the flag out more and share its story with people he meets.

“If I can’t give it back now, I don’t want it to get lost somewhere in history,” Smith said.

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

Missionaries graduate from leadership training program in England

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 10:03am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Church Mission Society’s Pioneer Mission Leadership Training program has experienced a further growth in numbers with an eclectic mix of missionaries graduating this week. The graduation ceremony took place at CMS House in Oxford, England, with 24 students receiving Durham University awards, signifying the completion of their studies in theology, ministry and mission. The pioneers included some being ordained into the Church of England as deacons or admitted to the order of Lay Pioneers.

Full article.

Priest who fled Iran as teen chosen as Anglican bishop in Britain

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 10:00am

[Anglican Communion News Service] An Iranian whose family was forced to flee to Britain in the wake of the Revolution in 1980 has been announced as the first Bishop of Loughborough. The Rev. Guli Francis-Dehqani was 14 at the time her family fled Iran, and she went on to attend Nottingham and Bristol universities and was ordained in 1998.

Guli’s father, Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, was the first Iranian to serve as Bishop of Iran from 1961 until 1990, before his death in 2008.

Full article.

Podcast: EYE17 kicks off in Oklahoma

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 9:19pm

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached and presided during the opening Eucharist of EYE17. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service — Edmond, Oklahoma] The Episcopal Youth Event is underway in Edmond, Oklahoma, from July 10-14. Ninety of 109 Episcopal dioceses are represented and more than 1,400 people, including chaperones, are on the ground here at the University of Central Oklahoma. Episcopal News Service sent Miranda Shafer to Oklahoma to cover the event.

Richard Serota to retire as Episcopal Church director of information technology

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 4:19pm

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer Geoffrey Smith has announced the retirement of Richard Serota as director of information technology at the Episcopal Church Center.

Serota joined the staff in 1990 and was named director of information technology in 1995.“My years with the DFMS have been by far the longest tenure during my almost half-century of employment in Information Technology,” Serota said. “Much more importantly, they have been the most enriching years by every measure —professional, personal, and spiritual.”

“My years with the DFMS have been by far the longest tenure during my almost half-century of employment in Information Technology,” Serota said. “Much more importantly, they have been the most enriching years by every measure —professional, personal, and spiritual.”

“Richard started the IT function at the Episcopal Church Center, building desktop computers the year before Senator Al Gore sponsored the High Performance Computing Act, which led to the internet,” Smith commented. “In his tenure, he has been responsible for or played a part in bringing to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society every technological innovation we use today, and his legacy is an outstanding team of IT professionals who will carry on our work going forward.  We are deeply indebted to his efforts.”

Serota will retire on Aug. 31. Until then he can be reached at rserota@episcopalchurch.org.

Applications are currently being accepted for the Episcopal Church director of information technology, based in New York City. Application information is available here. Deadline is August 28.

 

More resources sought for joint Anglican-Old Catholic worship

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 4:01pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Anglicans and Old Catholics meeting in Germany have been examining the results of a survey conducted across five European countries. The survey reflected a high level of awareness of the relationship of full communion between Anglicans and Old Catholics, with respondents requesting more resources for joint worship services.

Full article.

Virginia interfaith clergy demonstrate in opposition to the KKK

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 3:57pm

The Rev. Elaine Thomas, associate rector of St. Paul’s Memorial Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, leads the march from Safe Space at First United Methodist Church to the July 8 anti-Ku Klux Klan rally. Photo: Richard Lord

[Episcopal News Service – Charlottesville, Virginia] Over 1,000 counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, neutralized a rally of some 30 Ku Klux Klan members in Justice Park on July 8. The counterdemonstrators’ chanting, horn-blowing and screaming rendered the words of the Klan inaudible more than a couple of feet away. A newly formed interfaith group, the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, was among the leading organizers of the counter-demonstration.

The Klan staged a rally in Charlottesville, a university town of 50,000 people in Central Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, to protest the City Council’s February 2017, vote to remove statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the city’s two biggest parks. Two-thousand more people attended unity and educational events just blocks from Justice Park.

A half hour after the rally ended, Virginia State Police tear-gassed a small group of protestors. Twenty-three people were arrested. Details of the incident had not been confirmed by Monday evening.

The Charlottesville Clergy Collective organized clergy to plan and execute a unified response to the Klan rally. The organization is open to all clergy and 30 have regularly attended weekly meetings since 2015. Three Episcopal congregations are represented. Among the steering committee members is the Rev. Elaine Thomas, associate rector of St. Paul’s Memorial Church, an Episcopal church that serves the University of Virginia community.

Counter-demonstrators at the Ku Klux Klan rally in
Charlottesville, Virginia, on July 8. on Saturday. In the background is the statue of
Stonewall Jackson. Its relocation to a park outside the city’s center spurred the 30 members of the Klan to rally in protest. Photo: Richard Lord

“This is the body of Christ in action,” said Thomas, referring to the counter-demonstrators. “We need to get out of the pews and into the community. Injustice is never beaten by staying home.”

“My congregation has been extremely supportive of my efforts to protest against the Klan and white supremacists,” Thomas continued. “Activism is what they are all about.”

Thomas said that the anti-Klan activities have unified the city in its opposition, especially the activities of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective.

“The collective has given me the opportunity to increase my exposure to other faiths. And to other races as well as other ethnicities,” she said. “The churches do not agree on everything. But, through the collective, we have come together as a single body to deal effectively with this issue.”

The Charlottesville Clergy Collective was formed in 2015 in response to the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It formed as a way for clergy to develop a response network to as a unified body, should a similar event occur in Charlottesville.

The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Pelham, North Carolina, has lost an estimated 80 percent of its membership since December 2016. The loss followed the arrest of its Imperial Wizard, Chris Barker, for stabbing another Klan member, according to Nate Thayer, a journalist who writes extensively about the KKK.

Home to the University of Virginia, Charlottesville is seen as a liberal bastion within the state. In the off-year June 2017 primaries for governor, lieutenant governor and other statewide and local offices, the city’s Democrats had the highest turnout of any party in any non-presidential election in Virginia history.

The Charlottesville area is steeped in history. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Madison’s Ash Lawn are a short drive from downtown Charlottesville. Two other presidential homes (James Monroe’s and Woodrow Wilson’s) are within a 45-minute drive.

The statute of Robert E. Lee became a focal point back in February with the City Council’s vote to move it from the city’s most prominent park to a park outside the city center. White supremacists were enraged and there was an attempt to get the city’s African-American vice major removed from office.

Reaction to the City Council’s vote drew national attention. Corey Stewart, a white supremacist candidate for Republican gubernatorial nomination from Northern Virginia, attempted to broadcast a Facebook Live presentation in front of the Lee statue. Counter-protesters forced him to cut the attempt short. The local press depicted the event that he had been “run out of town.”

Stewart returned a few weeks later with about 100 supporters who wore motorcycle gang jackets, one of whom was carrying an assault weapon and had his finger on the trigger during Stewart’s speech.

This led to the announcement in late May that the KKK had received a permit to rally in Charlottesville. The community rose to plan its reaction to the July 8 event.

Several organizations focused their efforts on counter-protesting. Some observed and made noise in the park. Others engaged in non-violent direct-action aimed to stop the rally.

“We need to protect our community from the terrorist Ku Klux Klan,” said Grace Aheron, an Episcopal chaplain and justice activist who is from Charlottesville and is affiliated with Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ.

For 45 minutes, SURJ members blocked the entrance to the park so that the Klan could not enter, said Aheron.

“It is because the city of Charlottesville has failed to protect us from the Klan that we have to do this,” she continued. “And we were successful. Not only in delaying the Klan, but in creating community awareness of what is happening.”

A rally of white supremacists has been scheduled for Aug.12 in Emancipation (formerly Robert E. Lee) Park, blocks from the Klan’s July 8 rally site. The city issued a permit for 400 people for the August rally, which is suspected to be much larger than the one on July 8.

– Richard Lord is a freelance photographer and writer based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and New York City.

Baltimore congregation binds Maryland, Kenyan dioceses in joint ministry

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 3:10pm

Kenyan Bishop Joseph Muchai, center, ordains Janet Kuria to the transitional diaconate. Sharing in the service is Bishop Chilton Knudsen, left, and Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton. The July 8 service took place at St. Andrew’s International Christian Community Anglican-Episcopal Church, Baltimore, a joint ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Nakuru and the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Photo: Dan Webster

[Episcopal News Service – Baltimore, Maryland] The Rev. John Karanja had a problem. His Baltimore congregation needed a new home. But where could he find one?

Even though Karanja was from the Anglican Diocese of Nakuru in Kenya, his congregation, the International Christian Community, wasn’t really worshiping in the Anglican style. A call home ended with the suggestion that he reach out to the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Diocese of Maryland.

“I told him what I’m looking for,” said Karanja, recalling the December 2013 meeting. “I left the office knowing I would get a building.”

Indeed, the diocese had closed a church a month earlier. Within weeks, Karanja and his parishioners moved into the vacant building. Thus began a unique ministry between the Diocese of Nakuru and the Diocese of Maryland that is much deeper than the more common companion diocese relationship.

“Both dioceses have a hand in this church,” said Sutton.

Recently, the newly named St. Andrew’s International Christian Community Anglican-Episcopal Church celebrated the ordination of one of its members, the Rev. Janet K. Kuria, to the transitional diaconate. Bishops from both diocese participated.

“This is not planned. This is not in the canons,” Sutton said of the arrangement during his sermon at the ordination service. “We are working it out because the holy spirit has brought us together.”

Karanja joked during the service that he is probably the only priest who has to labor within the strictures of two dioceses and under the oversight of not one, not two, but three bishops.

Getting to this point required careful negotiations. Not everyone favored the joint ministry. Tensions within the Anglican Communion over important theological issues have strained and sometimes broken the bonds of affection between conservative and liberal churches.

Those concerns have not stopped the Rt. Rev. Joseph K. Muchai, bishop of Nakuru, from giving his full support to the project.

“We’re working together to bring people to God’s kingdom, and we can learn a lot from each other,” he said, after the ordination service at which he joined in laying hands on Kuria. “We respect each other’s views. We may not all agree, but what is important is the mission.”

That mission, said Sutton, is built around the central tasks of the church: To proclaim the kingdom of God, drive out evil wherever it can be found and heal whatever is broken. In the case of St. Andrew’s, the mission began with the gift of hospitality.

“For you to be given a church is not easy. It shows love,” said Muchai.

Some of the particulars of the partnership are laid out in a memorandum of understanding approved last year. Presently, St. Andrew’s has the building rent-free, but it pays its own utility bills and other operating expenses. Christian education is offered leading to baptism, confirmation and similar services as prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. The church also pays a regular contribution to the Diocese of Maryland and is received at the annual convention as a “partner congregation” with voice and vote.

Should any disputes or misunderstandings arise, the bishops of both dioceses will agree to meet and work things out.

The church also is required to offer a weekly Sunday service of Holy Communion as found in the Book of Common Prayer in addition to a Sunday service that caters to the original congregation and draws African immigrants from as far away as Delaware, Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C., suburbs. In all, St. Andrew’s has about 150 people on its rolls.

Karanja noted with a smile that the 9 a.m. prayer book service is aimed at people who like a traditional service and who like to be in and out of church within an hour. At the 11 a.m. “contemporary” service, no one watches the clock. There you might hear songs in English, Kiswahili or Kikuyu.

The recent ordination combined both styles of worship. At one point in the service Karanja excused himself and begged forgiveness. He had not given the women of St. Andrew’s their moment of celebration. At his cue, at least two dozen women gathered at the back of the sanctuary for a joyous, spirited procession that was part dance and part march. Ululations and shouts rang above the song as the women swayed from side to side, Kuria in the lead.

She has been preaching and evangelizing for years and is currently commissioned as captain in the Church Army, an organization within the Church of England dedicated to evangelism throughout the Anglican Communion.

“It’s a great way to go out and do mission,” said Kuria, who is completing her clinical pastoral work at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and hopes to be ordained to the priesthood next year.

By then, Sutton hopes to have made a second trip to Kenya to visit his ministry partners in Nakuru. He plans to take a team from the Diocese of Maryland with him. Muchai said such trips will help strengthen the fellowship as clergy and lay members from Maryland and Nakuru share ideas about youth ministry and planting churches, possibly developing a system where groups travel between the two countries on a regular basis.

“It’s just my hope that this partnership and mission grows as a model of how people of different cultures can connect,” said Sutton. “Given our differences on certain theological matters, rather than stay in our corners and lob insults and bombs across the ocean, let’s pray together and listen to each other and do common mission. If we do that, then maybe people, the world, will see that Christians indeed do love each other.”

– The Rev. M. Dion Thompson is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Maryland.

John Taylor consecrated bishop coadjutor of Los Angeles in ‘grand fiesta’ of unity, diversity

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 3:58pm

John H. Taylor kneels before the co-consecrating bishops during the litany at the July 8 consecration service in Los Angeles, which included some 20 bishops from as far away as Kenya. Photo: Donna Machado

[Episcopal News Service – Los Angeles, California] The Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor was ordained and consecrated bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Los Angeles on July 8 in a “grand fiesta” of celebration highlighting the diocese’s rich cultural diversity and its focus on mission.

Korean drummers, Chinese dancers and a mariachi band led processions of bishops from across the Episcopal Church as about 3,000 laity, clergy, ecumenical visitors, interfaith guests and civic leaders gathered for the service at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles. Another 8,000 watched the celebration by live-streamed video.

Banners representing the diocese’s 140 congregations and institutions lined the pavilion’s entryway prior to the start of the service. Taylor chose the theme “Feeding Hungry Hearts” for both the consecration service and his episcopate, and guests were invited to bring grocery gift cards for distribution to those in need.

The Golden State British Brass Band performed musical preludes, and two choirs – 80 choristers from congregations across the diocese and the Episcopal Chorale Society – offered musical selections during the three-hour multilingual service led by Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Newly ordained Bishop Coadjutor John H. Taylor of the Diocese of Los Angeles receives a mitre from his wife, Kathy Hannigan O’Connor. Photo: Elizabeth Kurtz

Co-consecrators included Los Angeles Bishops J. Jon Bruno, bishop diocesan, whom Taylor will succeed upon Bruno’s retirement; Diane Jardine Bruce, bishop suffragan; Chester Talton, resigned bishop suffragan, and Sergio Carranza, resigned bishop assistant.

Some 20 other bishops attended the ceremony, including Bishop Onesimus Park, Diocese of Busan and primate of Korea, and Bishop Donald Tamihere of the Diocese of Tairāwhiti in the Anglican Church of New Zealand. Near the end of the service, Tamihere and five young people from his diocese performed a Maori song and dance to express unity with the Los Angeles diocese, followed by a haka ceremonial dance.

Bishop Guy Erwin of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, assisted by the Very Rev. Dajad Yardemian; and Rt. Rev. Edward Clark, auxiliary bishop, Archdiocese of Los Angeles (Roman Catholic) also were present.

Resigned (retired) Episcopal bishops resident in the diocese of Los Angeles attending the service were Edward Mackenzie, former bishop suffragan of Cape Town, South Africa; Catherine Roskam, former bishop suffragan of New York (now serving as bishop-in-charge at St. James’ Church, Los Angeles); and Artemio Zabala, former bishop of the Philippines.

Other Episcopal bishops attending were Barry Beisner, Diocese of Northern California; Patrick Bell, Diocese of Eastern Oregon; Mary Gray-Reeves, Diocese of El Camino Real (California); Michael Hanley, Diocese of Oregon; Scott Hayashi, Diocese of Utah; Edward Little, Diocese of Northern Indiana (resigned); DeDe Duncan Probe, Diocese of Central New York; Gretchen Reberg, Diocese of Spokane; Greg Rickel, Diocese of Olympia; Allen Shin, bishop suffragan of New York; Kirk Smith, Diocese of Arizona; Brian Thom, Diocese of Idaho; and Carl Wright, bishop suffragan for Federal Ministries.

Attending from dioceses in companion relationships with Los Angeles were Enrique Trevino of the Diocese of Cuernavaca, Mexico; and Dean Hosam Naoum of the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, representing Archbishop Suheil Dawani.

The Diocese of Los Angeles has strong and active ties to other faiths and denominations in Southern California, and the congregation included a number of interfaith and ecumenical representatives, including: Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; Rabbi Morley Feinstein, immediate past president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California; Father Alexei Smith, interfaith officer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Judy and Steve Gilliland, representing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Interreligious Council of Southern California; two swamis of the Vedanta Society of Southern California; and Tahil Sharma of the Sikh community.

Of the consecration service, Taylor, 62, said: “Today is a giant celebration of the unity in Christ of the people of God discovering through the beauty of the liturgy, the beauty of the music and our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to bind us together, to bind up our wounds, and heal our divisions and listen to each other with love and without rancor and by talking to one another face to face about the things that inspire us, the things that worry us, the things that divide us.

“We have been fed today to go forth into the world to do the work that Jesus Christ has prepared for us, to feed his people, to work for justice, to work for unity, to work for peace. It was a grand fiesta in the Diocese of Los Angeles.”

Following gospel readings in Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Spanish and English, the Rev. James Brenneman, served as preacher.

Brenneman founded the Pasadena Mennonite Church, where he served for 20 years. In May 2017, he was named president of the American Baptist Seminary of the Southwest. He had also served as a faculty member of the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont, teaching Old Testament scholarship.

He drew laughter from the congregation when speaking about the hybrid nature of his ministry, noting that students at the Claremont seminary had gifted him with a T-shirt that said “Episcomenalian” and that he considered himself “either a high church Mennonite or a low-church Episcopalian”.

Continuing Taylor’s stated theme for his episcopacy, he said he was deeply troubled at reading that “we the people through our elected representatives and our president are proposing to cut $193 billion from food stamp programs in the next 10 years … (when) 13 percent of American households are food insecure.”

The entire service may be viewed on the diocesan Facebook page here.

Arrangements for the service were handled by a 14-member committee led by the Rev. Canon Melissa McCarthy, vicar of Church of the Epiphany, Oak Park, and dean of the diocese’s northernmost geographic deanery. Robert Williams, canon for community relations, provided staff support to the committee.

Taylor was elected to become seventh bishop of Los Angeles by the 121st annual meeting of the diocese on Dec. 3, 2016. He is the 1,101st bishop of the Episcopal Church.

He is a native Detroiter, the son of journalists and a published novelist. Prior to his election, Taylor, who formerly served as an aide to former President Richard Nixon and later as first director of the Nixon Presidential Library, was vicar of St. John Chrysostom in Rancho Santa Margarita, in the Los Angeles diocese. He and Kathleen Hannigan O’Connor, another former Nixon aide, married in 2002. He has two daughters, Valerie and Lindsay, and two stepchildren, Daniel and Meaghan.

Taylor will succeed Bruno, who has served as diocesan bishop for more than 15 years. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles was established in 1896 and encompasses 65,000 members worshipping in 140 congregations located in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Immediately after the services, guests enjoyed a dessert buffet reception in the park across the street from the pavilion.

— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.

Swaziland youth group mounts outreach bike trip across African country

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 2:47pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Young people in the Anglican Diocese of Swaziland have embarked on a 450-kilometer challenge (about 280 miles) to raise environmental awareness. They will be donating shoes, school uniforms and toiletries at Anglican Schools along their route.

Full article.

Board upholds sanctions against J. Jon Bruno as panel weighs disciplinary case

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 12:37pm

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops has rejected an appeal by Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno objecting to sanctions levied against him by a Title IV hearing panel that is deliberating over its final ruling in Bruno’s disciplinary case.

The panel’s June 17 sanctions prohibited Bruno from pursuing the sale of St. James the Great Church in Newport Beach, California, while the disciplinary case progresses. Bruno’s initial failed attempt to sell the church property was the basis for the Title IV case against him.

Church Attorney Raymond “Jerry” Coughlan, left, shows Diocese of Los Angeles J. Jon Bruno documents during the bishop’s testimony March 29. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The hearing panel’s sanctions were echoed June 29 by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who issued an order partly restricting Bruno’s ministry, specifically his ability to sell the church property. These restrictions were in response to news that Bruno again had tried to sell the church while disciplinary action was pending.

The original case against Bruno involves his unsuccessful 2015 attempt to sell the church property to a condominium developer for $15 million in cash. That effort prompted the members of St. James to bring misconduct allegations against Bruno, claiming he violated Episcopal Church law. Hearings on those allegations were held in March.

The Episcopal Church ecclesiastical disciplinary panel, which still is considering whether or how to discipline Bruno in that case, told Bruno on June 17 he is prohibited from “selling or conveying or contracting to sell or convey the St. James property until further order of the Hearing Panel.”

Bruno appealed that sanction, but the Disciplinary Board for Bishops rejected the appeal in an order released July 8 and posted online by the group Save St. James the Great.

“By contracting to sell the St. James property while the conflicts involving that property were still under review and consideration by the Hearing Panel, [Bruno] disrupted and interfered with the integrity of the process of the Title IV proceeding,” the order reads. Bruno’s “actions undermined what the canons intend to be a process of reconciliation.”

The order came as Bruno’s intended successor, Bishop Coadjutor John Taylor, was ordained and consecrated July 8 in Los Angeles.

Bruno turns 72, the Episcopal Church’s mandatory retirement age, in late 2018.

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

Brotherhood of St. Andrew names interim executive director

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 4:45pm

[Brotherhood of St. Andrew] Thomas Welch of Jackson, Mississippi is the new interim executive director to the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, a 134-year old men’s ministry of the Episcopal Church.

Previously based in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, the Brotherhood is opening offices in Louisville, Kentucky, this summer. Welch will oversee operational functions for the 4,200-strong ministry.

Thomas Welch

He’s a member at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Jackson. A former Eagle Scout, vestry member and diocesan delegate, Welch is also an active lay Eucharistic minister.

“We are very excited about the ability to make a statement about expanding the men’s ministry movement throughout the country,” Brotherhood President Jeffrey Butcher said. “We need men to adopt a more active role in their spiritual journey.”

Welch’s resume includes a leadership role in the national Cursillo movement as well as leading both Episcopal and Methodist Cursillo retreats. Youth programs are equally important to the Brotherhood’s new interim executive director. Welch has been heavily involved in Camp Fund-shine (a camp for pediatric burn victims) and Camp Bratton-Green in his home diocese in Mississippi, and, most recently, he was director at Camp Hardtner in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana.

Before moving to work within the church, Welch was with the John Hancock Financial Network. In this role, he has practiced risk management, planned giving, college planning, long-term care and retirement planning and protection. This enabled him to have extensive interaction with individual and institutional clients, 501(c)(3) entities and businesses.

“This hiring is a statement that tells the church and our members we are very serious concerning the challenge to disciple men and youth to Christ,” President Butcher said. “We are now stepping up to the plate like our Lutheran and Methodist counterparts. The Brotherhood has not had a director for more than a decade.”

Welch began his duties with the Brotherhood on June 19. He said he was equally excited to meet the thousands of Brothers throughout the nation, beginning with the organization’s national council meeting June 20-22 in Louisville.

“I believe if we are going to reach the millennials in the 21st century we must reach them in new ways and venues with the same 134-year-old Brotherhood of St. Andrew mission but with a different vision of how the mission is fulfilled today,” Welch said.

“These days young adults aren’t going to have breakfast on Saturday mornings with a bunch of buddies. They are grabbing premium coffee at the café on their way to play lacrosse followed by a full weekend of other activities.

“Why not reach out to them in late evenings during the week? We see other areas of the church have great success in changing the time and even the location of evangelism efforts, though the mission is still the same.

“It’s the vision of how we picture the environment that may need to adjust. If we can get them interested, we can get eventually get them to a brick and mortar church on Sunday.

“When we’ve done that we have strengthened the local parish. When we strengthen the local parish leadership we grow the church.”

2 new bishops chosen in Polynesia, including Tonga’s first

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 11:06am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop Winston Halapua, the diocesan bishop of Polynesia, says he is “more than delighted” to make the announcement of two new bishops. The Rev. Afa Vaka will become the first bishop of the newly constituted episcopal unit of Tonga, and Archdeacon Henry Bull is to be the next bishop in Vanua Levu and Taveuni in Fiji.

Full article.

Episcopal priest takes dying dog on road trip for ‘Last Howlelujah Tour’ through Southwest

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 10:10am

Nawiliwili Nelson, better known as Wili, is spending more than two weeks on the road in a Honda CRV with the Rev. Bill Miller, who calls dogs “God’s best work.” Photo: Bill Miller

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Bill Miller is taking a close friend to Las Vegas on vacation, but this trip is about the bark, not the bet.

Miller’s traveling companion is his 12-year-old dog Wili, who is dying of cancer, and Vegas is only the final stop on a six-state road trip that the Episcopal priest from Louisiana is calling the “Last Howlelujah Tour.”

“It’s been extraordinary,” Miller said July 6 when reached by phone in Corsicana, Texas, south of Dallas. “The best parts of the trip have been really what we set out to accomplish, just to spend time together. We’ve just had a ball being together.”

In addition to spending precious time with Wili, the other goals of the tour are to remind people of the spiritual importance of close relationships – whether with family, friends or “man’s best friend” – and to promote and raise money for animal welfare organizations.

The tour will take the Rev. Bill Miller and Wili from Louisiana to Nevada, passing through Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. Here they pose for photo July 4 during a stop at Barrow Brewing Company in Salado, Texas. Photo: Bill Miller, via Facebook.

The stop in Corsicana was about a week into the two-week tour, and a fundraiser there July 5 raised $1,600 for the Humane Society of Navarro County. Miller has lined up about two dozen similar events in 18 cities on his route. Miller also is the author of two books, which he sells during his visits to churches, breweries and bookstores, and part of the proceeds of those sales are added to the fundraisers.

“We have met some incredibly gracious and loving people along the way. They have shown [Wili] great hospitality,” Miller said.

Miller, a 58-year-old Texas native, has served as a priest about 25 years. He was living in Austin when he got his first dog, an Airedale named Sam, in 1993. The dog’s story of surviving a house fire became the foundation for Miller’s 2005 book, “The Gospel According to Sam.” (Miller’s other book is “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God.”)

After Sam’s death and while serving at a church in Hawaii, Miller adopted Wili from the local animal shelter. Part terrier, Wili’s full name is Nawiliwili Nelson, a little bit Hawaiian and a little bit Texan (his nickname is pronounced “Willie”). The priest felt an immediate connection to the pup.

“He just had one of these rare outgoing personalities, and he has maintained that throughout his life, even here as he’s been dealing with cancer,” Miller said.

Miller moved to Covington, Louisiana, north of New Orleans, about two years ago to become rector at Christ Episcopal Church. And he now has three dogs, including a mutt named Sinbad and a pit bull named Mahalia Jackson Queen Liliuokalani, or Lili for short.

In November, Miller noticed Wili wasn’t eating. The veterinarian diagnosed cancer the next day, and Wili was given as little as three months to live. But that three months has extended past six months and now into the summer, with the help of surgery, chemotherapy and a healthier diet for Wili.

Miller took some time off from his work at Christ Episcopal to celebrate Wili’s improved health by embarking on their current road trip. They held a launch party on June 26 at the Abita Brewery in Covington and hit the road June 30. The tour will conclude July 16 in Las Vegas, where they have three events scheduled at Mountain View Presbyterian Church.

The Rev. Bill Miller is sharing dog stories with fans on the stops along his “Last Howlelujah Tour” of the South and Southwest with Wili. Photo: Bill Miller

The tour will take them from Louisiana to Nevada, passing through Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, and counting the return trip, Miller expects them to cover about 5,000 miles before reaching home. He also will be preaching along the way, including Sunday, July 9, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oklahoma City.

But the most important thing for him, personally, is to spend time with Wili, who has a water bowl and plenty of space to rest with the seat down in the back of Miller’s Honda CRV. They’ve been thanking God for air-conditioning while navigating the hot highways of the South and Southwest. They travel light and look for cheap, dog-friendly hotels when they stop.

“Wili has not lost any enthusiasm for life and his love for people,” Miller said.

It’s one example why Miller describes dogs as “God’s best work.”

“I think what dogs teach us is how to be our best selves, because they exhibit unconditional love and affirmation,” he said. “They’re able to show us such love at every moment. They’re always happy to see us, the tail is always wagging. They take such delight in the simple things in life.”

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

Q&A: Samira Izadi Page, founder of Dallas’ Gateway of Grace

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 2:40pm

[Episcopal News Service – Dallas, Texas] Episcopal News Service spoke with the Rev. Samira Izadi Page, founder and executive director of Gateway of Grace, about her life, fleeing Iran in 1989, her journey to the United States a year later, and her ministry during a recent interview at her office in Dallas.

Gateway of Grace is a ministry that mobilizes Episcopal and other churches to bridge sociocultural gaps, and remove the fears, anxieties and spiritual apathy that stand in the way of Christians connecting with refugees. Gateway partners with more than 50 congregations to adopt refugee families upon arrival, and provides job readiness, language and other trainings.

On Wednesday nights, Gateway of Grace hosts Grace Community, providing a space for fellowship, prayer, worship, a meal and Bible study for Christian refugees who fled persecution in their home countries, and Muslim refugees who are interested in learning about Christianity. The community includes refugees from 16 countries — including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Syria — and six religious backgrounds.

In February, when the Trump administration first announced its executive order suspending the refugee resettlement program and restricting travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, Gateway of Grace initiated a 30 Days of Prayer for Refugees campaign. Many of the refugees served by Gateway of Grace have family members and friends whose lives are in limbo.

You have an incredible story. Can you describe briefly your journey from Iran to the United States, what drove you to flee your country and seek political asylum?

My ex-husband was a Sunni Muslim, I was a Shia and he was persecuted. It’s a very long story, but one morning I was working on my Ph.D. and there was a knock at the door and when I opened the door life as we knew it just ended. The intelligence service came in, they tore the house apart and they found a copy of Salman Rushdie’s “[The] Satanic Verses” and that was basically the end for us. My husband, lucky enough, wasn’t home, but they took everything that we had at the house and they shut down his business, they shut down our accounts, and we escaped Iran empty-handed, walking through four feet of snow over two nights with two kids. We nearly froze to death.

The Rev. Samira Izadi Page


Age: 44 (on June 12, 2017)
Born: Shiraz, Iran
Residence: Dallas, Texas
Who: An Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Dallas and founder and executive director of Gateway of Grace.
Professional background: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy earned in Iran. Attended seminary at Southern Methodist University: Master of Divinity and Doctorate in Ministry focused on missional church studies. Ordained a deacon in 2010; a priest in 2011.

We went to Turkey. My husband’s brothers sent us money from Dubai, and we hired smugglers and they took us from Turkey to Mexico, and they left us in the middle of Mexico City with nothing; less than $500, no documentations, we had nothing. On the 10th day that we were there I saw a store that sold oriental rugs and I thought that may have something to do with Persian rugs so I went up to the store and I said, “Do you have any Persian rugs?” By my accent, he immediately knew I was Iranian. He started speaking back Farsi and I started crying. I said, “Stay right here, I’m going to get my husband,” and as soon as he came up he said, “Aren’t you the son of Mr. so-and-so?” That guy’s father had been my husband’s tenant back in our hometown. What are the odds of meeting someone from your own country of 60-some million, your hometown of a few million, whose father had been your tenant, in the largest city in the world on the 10th day? Every step that we took it was like that.

We were there for a year, it’s a long, long story, but then we crossed the border at New Laredo and walked through the river and turned ourselves in at the immigration post and applied for asylum. They said, “Where do you want to go?” My husband said, “Dallas.” It was really random. I wanted to go to California because that’s where most Iranians are, but my husband said, “Let’s go to Dallas.” It was a God thing really. And we got to Dallas at 7 a.m. and I thought, OK, we are going to have a job and an apartment today. A cab driver took us to Motel 6 from the downtown bus station. I saw Yellow Pages, which I had never seen before. I started looking for apartment locators, started calling, found out we couldn’t rent an apartment because we didn’t have Social Security numbers or jobs. I saw Islamic center, so I called them up and they said that they couldn’t help, but they knew of a lady who worked with refugees. They gave me the number, I called the lady and she sent someone. By 9:30 this guy was at our door and he said I have an apartment, I’m not sure whether you are going to like it or not. He took us to a two-bedroom, fully furnished apartment. By 11:30 we were in our own apartment. We had done our grocery shopping. We had paid a month of rent in a city where we didn’t know a soul; without documentation.

Now, these people, they were Christians, but they worked with Bosnian refugees who are Muslims. That’s how the mosque knew of them. They had prepared that apartment for a Bosnian family that was supposed to come a month before us. They never showed up, so it was just sitting. We walked right into it. When I told this man about my interest in Christianity he said, “Well why don’t you all come to church with us?” We went. It was a Baptist church, and I was baptized just six months later.

You were eventually given refugee status. Would you say your journey was typical or atypical?

It was atypical because refugees usually come in with full legal status. They come in with Social Security cards, they get work permits, but we had nothing. It was extremely difficult. That’s why I have so much compassion for refugees because I know where they’ve been.

You were born into a Shiite Muslim family and you married a Sunni Muslim. How did your family react to your conversion to Christianity?

My family was nominally Muslim, so there was never a conversation about religion at home. But my mom knew that I had a vision of the Virgin Mary when I was 6, so when I told her when I was about to be baptized, I called my mom and I said, “Mom, remember my vision?” and she immediately knew what I was talking about. I said, ‘Well, that’s happening,’ and she was happy. She is now a Christian; she was baptized about a year and a half ago, and now she’s being persecuted in Iran.

How did you find yourself in the Episcopal Church?

[By the] second year in seminary I knew that I couldn’t be a Baptist because of the sacraments and the understanding of ministry. My understanding was somewhat more ontological, who I was, rather than the function of, and the director of spiritual formation at Perkins was an Episcopal priest, Father Fred Schmidt. He is now at Garrett [Evangelical] Theological [Seminary]. I shared my testimony with him, and he said, “Well, have you considered joining the Catholic Church?” because of the vision of Virgin Mary. And I said, “Well I have a call to ministry,” and he said, “Well, why don’t you come to my church and visit.” I went that Sunday. And years and years ago, when I was 14 or 15, I had this dream and in that dream, I was thirsty looking for water. I was in a room that was in the shape of a hexagon and it was all marble and it was enclosed and I went round and round, and there in the middle of the room was a font. That stayed with me, and here I am many years later in the United States, becoming a Christian and I’m entering this church, Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. And I’m late and I have no idea what the Episcopal Church is and so I was kind of intimidated, and I enter through the back door, kind of the side door, and as I entered the first thing that hit me in the face almost was that font that I had seen in my dream. That’s how I knew I belonged there.

Where did the idea of Gateway of Grace come from?

When my curacy was coming to an end I started praying asking God what it was that he wanted me to do. And as I was praying through my life, it’s not like there was shortage of clergy here for God to bring an Iranian woman with an accent to serve at the parish, because as wonderful as that would be it would have nothing to do with my experience, what God had taught me through those experiences. So, I started to look at the refugee population, and at that time I had already worked with refugees for a couple of years. And I started looking at what was available to them, and Texas was the largest hub for refugees up until last year and now it is second to California. And I noticed there were churches that were doing holistic ministry, like the Baptist church that adopted me kind of intrinsically, and then there were churches or refugee organizations or ministries that were very secular: They would just give refugees stuff or help them, but they wouldn’t want to talk about the spiritual matters. Then there were, on the other side, people – “Are you saved, do you know Jesus yet?” And then there were a lot of programs but there wasn’t any systematic way of mobilizing churches to do a holistic type of ministry that would address not only the practical needs but also the emotional and spiritual needs of refugees. When we were praying about the name we thought, well, what is the one thing that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions, and that’s grace. And the instrument that God uses to communicate that grace into the world is the church, therefore, the church is the gateway of God’s grace, so Gateway of Grace.

How did you end up focusing your doctoral thesis on decreasing anxiety and fear about refugees among Christians?

When I got my doctorate, I wanted to do something that was relevant to the work I was doing and I wanted a very systematic, very Anglican kind of Episcopal way of removing fears and prejudices and spiritual apathy. Those are big issues, at least here in Dallas, just the unknowing. The idea was how do we use scripture, tradition, reason and social studies, all that we have in our church to address these issues specifically, and move them from the place of fear, anxiety, hatred, anger, unknowing to engagement in God’s mission through ministry to refugees?

Why do you think Christians (Americans) harbor so much fear and anxiety?

Well, part of it is the media. The media provides, whether it’s liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, or anything in between, they each provide a slice of reality. They don’t provide the entire pie of reality, and while those realities are factual, they are not the entire picture and thus they form an alternative reality that’s not accurate. But people who are not familiar personally with refugees, they buy that because that’s all they are introduced to, so media is a huge part of it; the way they present the issue.

In your experience have you found that alleviating those fears comes through compassion and acceptance and is that possible only through personal relationships?

So that’s what my thesis is about. It’s a whole workshop, it’s a whole process of how do we address those issues, so I use ancient prayer methods, social studies to kind of address the fears and the concerns and do a spiritual formation and move them from that place to refugee ministry.

Unlike in Europe, where disaffected first-generation European Muslims have staged large-scale terrorist attacks, the United States hasn’t seen the same kind of violence. Yet, Americans live in fear of such attacks. How do you address or alleviate the fear that many white Christian Americans express? Not just in terms of fear of the other, but living in fear of a terrorist attack? Because they come with real fear, they see this stuff on television.

I think the key is to acknowledge the fear because those fears are real. We had a shooting in Garland, Texas, that was done by a Muslim extremist, shooting [up] a library. So those are not things that are impossible to happen in the U.S., therefore the fears are real, right? But how probable are they? That’s a different question. So far refugee resettlement has been a very successful program and we haven’t had any issues with our refugees. I’m a Muslim background believer and I have a holistic ministry. Part of it is evangelistic ministry to refugees, many of whom are Muslims, many of whom are very conservative, so I understand the fear. So, for them to be able to connect to someone who would just acknowledge their fear and have sympathy for their fear and not just dismiss it, then that’s really the first big step. The other parts of it are, as I do in my workshop, how do we move forward, and that’s through this whole process that we do with our volunteers and it takes time and patience. But I’ve seen people who did not like refugees, did not like Muslims, who are now huge advocates for refugees.

The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program is a public-private partnership and six of the nine resettlement partners are faith based. The affiliate network and the nonprofits working locally also tend to be faith based. Not to compare or say the U.S. system is necessarily better than the European system, which varies by country, but do faith-based partners lead to better rates of integration?

Absolutely.

How so?

Resettlement agencies such as Catholic Charities and International Rescue Committee or other organizations, they have limited financial resources and limited manpower, but in the church, we have all these resources. We have the manpower and the financial resources that we need to minister to refugees, but more importantly refugee resettlement agencies or secular organizations, they provide services, and those are for a limited number of months or until [refugees] get on their feet. But what churches do, they not only add to the services and fill in the gap where services are lacking, but they add Christian care. Services and care are two different things. I think that’s really important for the healing process, for the integration process. And, then on top of that, where these agencies leave off, the relationships that churches have formed, and by churches, I mean individual Christians, they continue to grow, and I think that’s a gift to the refugees that they are able to connect with Americans. Most refugees never come to experience real friendship with Americans, with Anglos, particularly.

Gov. Greg Abbot pulled Texas out of the federal Refugee Resettlement Program, which indicates to me that statewide there’s some resistance to refugees. Still, resettlement continues with the federal funds channeled through nonprofit organizations, and Texas is second only to California in the number of refugees admitted. Can you share some insight into the dissonance?

Political issues and people issues are two different things. I think the people of Texas are extremely generous, extremely loving, Dallas particularly. Or Texas is a Christian state, and while they might be politically conservative, they have the Holy Spirit in them, and the Holy Spirit moves them to reach refugees and to love them and to serve them whether they politically may agree with refugee resettlement or their political party is supportive of that.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, on the other hand, takes a position opposite the governor. He applauds the resettlement program. I read that one in four Dallas residents is foreign born. What makes Dallas, particularly, welcoming toward immigrants and refugees? How have they helped shape the city?

What has helped them to be welcoming, it’s just the heart of the people. It’s not political, they are just good people, many of them just good Christians. It’s a very religious city, so that might have to do with it.

I’m sure you’ve read stories about how refugees are revitalizing communities in the Rust Belt, in the Hudson Valley, where there are tons of Salvadorans and others from Central America who have really revitalized some of these smaller towns. Obviously, diversity makes cities stronger, communities stronger. Have you seen that here in Dallas

Yes. There is a neighborhood in Dallas that used to be very violent. Refugees have been resettled there and the violence has been reduced, but I don’t think and those may be impactful in the ways that political decisions are made, like at the mayor’s level, but I don’t think that individual Dallasites think in those terms. I don’t think they think, what are we gaining from this? I think they just have a good and generous and compassionate heart.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently temporarily upheld parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, refusing entry to people from six Muslim countries, unless they have a family connection or a university appointment. What has been the impact of the court’s decision on the community you serve?

Our refugees are in Turkey. They are mostly persecuted Christians. They are really struggling with that decision because their situation now is unknown and they despair. Many of them are wondering whether they should go back to Iran, and that would be extremely dangerous because these are heavily persecuted Christians. And so it has been a very difficult six months or so for our refugees, anyways, but this recent decision has added definitely for that.

So, you have a direct connection to refugees who are awaiting third-country resettlement?

Iranians, they are particularly there in Turkey, and my sister and her husband, they are refugees in Turkey right now among others. So, yeah, we have a network of refugees that we connect to.

Lynette Wilson is managing editor of Episcopal News Service. 

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