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Alabama church removes pew, plaque dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 4:54pm

A pew known as the Jefferson Davis pew is seen among newer pews at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Photo: David Berenguer

[Episcopal News Service] The pew had been an unmistakable fixture for decades at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Online photos show the pew – a cross-shaped poppyhead carved in its wooden finial – sticking out among the rows and rows of newer, plain-looking pews that filled the rest of the church’s sanctuary.

One other detail made this pew stand out: It was known as the Jefferson Davis pew with an accompanying plaque touting its history, a tribute to the Confederate president who attended St. John’s for three months in 1861 before the capital of the Confederacy was moved from Montgomery to Richmond, Virginia.

Today, that pew is in storage. The congregation removed it recently and moved a newer pew from the back of the sanctuary to take its place. The plaque was removed, too. “To continue to allow the pew to be in our worship space would be troublesome,” the Rev. Robert Wisnewski, rector at St. John’s, said this week in a message to the congregation.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis is seen in this portrait by Matthew Brady. Source: National Archives

At a time when Episcopal churches and institutions across the country are reckoning with their historical ties to slavery, the Confederacy and Jim Crow segregation, Wisnewski and vestry members took steps to set the record straight at St. John’s. They removed the Jefferson Davis pew, Wisnewski said, because its ties to Davis were false and its dedication ceremony 89 years ago was a political act steeped in racism, which runs counter to Christianity.

“Davis was a political figure, not a church figure, nor even a member of the parish,” Wisnewski wrote. “Acting to remove the pew and plaque is the correction of a political act and hopefully will help us all to focus more completely on the love of Christ for all people.”

Wisnewski, when reached by email, declined Episcopal News Service’s request for an interview, saying he had “nothing to add to the statement I’ve made,” though he clarified why the church began scrutinizing the history of the pew and plaque.

“In teaching a Sunday school class this past fall, I became aware of the pew’s dedication not occurring until 1925,” said Wisnewski, who has served at St. John’s since 1995. That detail was the first loose thread that led to the unraveling of the story of the Jefferson Davis pew.

Wisnewski noted the plaque at St. John’s called Davis “a communicant,” but Davis was not yet a confirmed Episcopalian when he attended services at St. John’s. The pew that was dedicated in 1925 wasn’t an original, Wisnewski said. The congregation had replaced the old pews with new ones in the early 1900s. By the 1930s, a pew from Davis’ era had been re-installed and labeled, but its ties to the Confederate figure were uncertain at best.

More troubling was evidence that the 1925 dedication ceremony championed white supremacy as openly as any nods to local history. Its timing, with racism and segregation on the rise, coincided with the “Lost Cause” campaign across the South, which sought to rehabilitate the image of the Confederacy and its leaders by denying the South fought the Civil War to protect slavery.

Montgomery’s roots in antebellum South

In the 1950s, Montgomery would become a pivotal battleground in the civil rights movement, with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, joining others in leading the successful Montgomery bus boycott. But a century earlier, Alabama’s capital city was known as a commerce hub in the slave-powered cotton empire of the antebellum South.

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Alabama, is seen in an undated historic photo. Photo: St. John’s, via website

St. John’s is Montgomery’s oldest Episcopal parish. It formed in 1834, and in 1837, the congregation completed construction of its 48-pew brick church. When membership topped 100, the congregation built a new church in 1855, and slaves were given use of the old brick church, according to a guidebook published by the Civil Heritage Trail.

Montgomery “was the exhilarated, thronging capital of the Confederate States of America” in the first months of 1861, the guidebook says, and Davis was inaugurated the Confederacy’s president in the city on Feb. 18.

Davis was raised a Baptist and only began attending Episcopal services in Montgomery at the urging of his second wife, Varina.

“We have no way of knowing how many times he or his family attended, perhaps only a few times or perhaps as many as a dozen times,” Wisnewski said in his message to the congregation about the Davis pew. “Since Davis was not confirmed, it is probable that he never received Holy Communion here and technically was not a communicant.”

After leaving Montgomery, Davis was confirmed in 1862 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, once known as the Cathedral of the Confederacy. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee also worshiped at St. Paul’s.

Pew plaques and stained glass windows at St. Paul’s had long touted the Richmond church’s historical ties to those two prominent Confederate figures when, in 2015, St. Paul’s launched its History and Reconciliation Initiative to re-examine that history and consider whether changes were warranted.

A massacre was the catalyst.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine black worshippers. When photos surfaced of Roof posing with a Confederate flag, it fueled a nationwide debate over the racist legacy of such imagery and its embrace by white supremacists.

At St. Paul’s, the congregation decided to remove all representations of Confederate battle flags but keep family memorials to fallen Confederate soldiers, and the congregation left untouched its plaques marking the pews where Davis and Lee once sat.

In 2017, a violent clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the fate of the city’s Confederate statues led to a new round of national debates and amplified calls to remove such symbols from public display, including at Episcopal institutions. Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital removed stained glass windows depicting Lee and a fellow Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson. Sewanee: University of the South in Tennessee moved a statue of another Confederate general from a prominent spot on campus to the university’s cemetery. R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia, changed its name back to its original Grace Episcopal Church.

“The argument is simple: The Confederacy fought to maintain slavery and white supremacy in the United States, and this isn’t something the country should honor in any way,” Joe McDaniel Jr., a member of General Convention’s Committee for Racial Justice and Reconciliation, said this week in an interview with ENS.

General Convention has passed numerous resolutions over the years to guide The Episcopal Church as it responds to racism and atones for its own complicity in racial injustice and support for racist systems. Such efforts have led to the creation of the Becoming Beloved Community framework, now the church’s cornerstone initiative on racial reconciliation.

McDaniel, a 58-year-old retired lawyer living in Pensacola, Florida, said he has followed closely the debate over Confederate statues and other memorials in recent years. He disputes arguments that removing such monuments amounts to erasing history. The monuments were not motivated by Southern pride or benign historic preservation, McDaniel said, but rather to promote a cause that was dedicated to keeping black Americans enslaved.

“Most of America is finally coming to terms with that,” McDaniel said. “I applaud St. John’s action in moving the Jefferson Davis pew.”

Little doubt about Davis pew’s racist pedigree

Vestry members made that decision last weekend at a planning retreat, Wisnewski said in his written message, after he brought his research on the pew to their attention, including the evidence that the pew was not in place for the 1925 dedication.

“The lore that the pew had been in place since the beginning of the Civil War and always known as the Jefferson Davis Pew is not true,” Wisnewski said.

The rector also discovered details of the 1925 dedication ceremony, which featured a speech by writer and historian John Trotwood Moore, known as “an apologist for the Old South” who espoused virulent white supremacist rhetoric and defended lynching.

John Trotwood Moore was known as an “apologist for the Old South.” He spoke at the dedication of the Jefferson Davis pew in 1925. Source: Tennessee State Library and Archives

A 1999 article in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly provides a description of Moore’s speech at the dedication of the Jefferson Davis pew, based on contemporary newspaper reports. The event was attended by Alabama’s governor and other civic leaders, and Moore was “their natural choice to deliver appropriate words,” according to the article’s author, Fred Arthur Bailey.

In addition to hailing Davis as a “pure blooded Anglo Saxon,” Moore made a case that racial purity and white superiority were part of Davis’ legacy.

“We are the children not of our father and mother but of our race,” Moore said. “It is well to teach our children that they are well bred, descendants of heroes. Only the pure breed ever reaches the stars.”

Wisnewski indicated that Moore’s role in the dedication of the pew gave little doubt about its racist pedigree.

“Confederate monuments and symbols have increasingly been used by groups that promote white supremacy and are now, to many people of all races, seen to represent insensitivity, hatred, and even evil,” Wisnewski said. “The mission of our parish is diametrically opposed to what these symbols have come to mean. …

“Even if the actions which brought about the Jefferson Davis Pew in 1925 were only to memorialize an historical fact, and that appears improbable, the continuance of its presence presents a political statement.”

The vestry voted to remove the pew and place it and the plaque honoring Davis in the church’s archives.

“This was not done to rewrite our history or to dishonor our forebears,” Wisnewski wrote in his message to the congregation. The current vestry would not vote to add such a pew honoring Davis, so it would be “troublesome” to let the existing pew remain.

“St. John’s prides itself in being a spiritual home for all people and a place where politics takes a back seat to the nurture of our souls,” Wisnewski said. “Our worship space is sacred and should direct our hearts to the love of God without distraction.”

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

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El período de solicitud ya está abierto para las becas Roanridge Trust

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 4:34pm

Se están aceptando solicitudes para las becas Roanridge Trust 2019. Las diócesis, congregaciones y organizaciones e instituciones relacionadas con La Iglesia Episcopal están invitadas a solicitar.

Las becas Roanridge Trust se ofrecen anualmente y apoyan modelos creativos de desarrollo de liderazgo, capacitación y ministerios en pueblos pequeños y comunidades rurales de toda La Iglesia Episcopal. Las becas generalmente varían de 5.000 a 20.000 dólares y se otorgan para ayudar a equipar a los líderes que sirven como catalizadores del bienestar civil y social en los municipios rurales donde la comunidad está unida de manera única con la vitalidad de la iglesia local.

“Estas becas afirman los valiosos dones y el testimonio único del trabajo ejercido en las comunidades episcopales rurales. Son una pieza clave del Movimiento Jesús, en la creación de líderes que sostienen la esperanza, la salud y la creatividad en lo que se puede pasar por alto o en las localidades con recursos”, dijo Melanie Mullen, Directora de Reconciliación, Justicia y Cuidado de la Creación para La Iglesia Episcopal. “Los beneficiarios de la beca Roanridge Trust representan anualmente el gran potencial, la diversidad y la capacidad de recuperación basada en Jesús en la América rural”.

Más información, solicitud e instrucciones están en inglés aquí y en español aquí.

Aunque los destinatarios anteriores son elegibles para solicitar, se da prioridad a los nuevos solicitantes.

La fecha límite de solicitud es el 30 de abril de 2019.

El Roanridge Trust fue establecido por la familia Cochel, que originalmente donó una granja en Missouri llamada Roanridge a La Iglesia Episcopal. Los ingresos del Fideicomiso generan los fondos de la subvención.

Las preguntas sobre Roanridge Trust y el proceso de solicitud pueden dirigirse a Ann Hércules,  ahercules@episcopalchurch.org.

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Lambeth Conference: Archbishop of Cape Town calls on bishops to ‘express your difference’

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 11:30am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, has called on Anglican bishops to attend the next Lambeth Conference despite differences within the Anglican Communion.  Thabo chairs the international Design Group, brought together by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to plan the once-in-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops, which will take place in Canterbury, Kent, July 23-Aug. 2, 2020. “I know people talk about the fabric of the communion as torn,” he said, “but we are all fallible human beings in need of God’s love and grace, and we need each other.”

Read the entire article here.

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Preliminary cathedral reinstatement works underway as Christchurch greets new bishop

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 11:25am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The new bishop of Christchurch in New Zealand, Peter Carrell, will be consecrated and installed Feb. 8 as efforts to reconstruct the earthquake damaged cathedral are finally underway. The cathedral was all but destroyed in the June 2011 earthquake. Years of dispute and legal wrangling over its future came to an end in September 2017 when the diocese agreed to rebuild the cathedral, with funding support from national and local government.

Read the entire article here.

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Tributes paid following the death of former Church of England evangelist Michael Green

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 11:22am

[Anglican Communion News Service]  The renowned evangelist, theologian and apologist Dr Michael Green, who once served as senior evangelism advisor to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, has died in hospital at the age of 88. “It is with great sadness that I pass on the news that Michael Green went to be with the Lord yesterday Wednesday 6th February at around 3pm at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford”, the Director of Ministerial Training at Wycliffe Hall theological college, Greg Downes, said in a statement on Feb. 7. “His passing was peaceful and he was surrounded by Rosemary and his immediate family. . . I’ve just spoken to Rosemary on the phone and prayed with her and she is feeling at peace and grateful for the many messages of support and love that she has received from around the world.”

Read the entire article here.

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Communications Director at the Anglican Communion Office to move on

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 11:19am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Communion’s Director for Communications, Adrian Butcher, is stepping down after three years. Butcher, who worked for BBC News for 25 years before coming to the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), took up the post just before the last meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-16) in Zambia. He will leave in May after ACC-17 in Hong Kong.

Read the entire article here.

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Les rapports paroissiaux 2018 sont à soumettre aux diocèses le 1er mars et au Bureau de la Convention générale le 1er mai : le dépôt en ligne est disponible.

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 8:57am

Le dépôt en ligne des Rapports paroissiaux 2018 est maintenant ouvert pour toutes les congrégations sur le site de L’Église épiscopale.  En plus du formulaire, vous trouverez également sur cette page web des instructions étape par étape ainsi qu’un livret de travail pour vous aider avec ce processus.

“Le Rapport annuel paroissial a traditionnellement joué un rôle majeur dans la planification de la mission et du ministère de l’Église,” explique le révérend canon, le Dr. Michael Barlowe, membre de la direction de la Convention Générale.

M Barlowe a également remarqué que toutes les congrégations devraient avoir reçu un dossier pour le rapport paroissial 2018 par courrier postal.  L’envoi concernant le rapport paroissial comprend une lettre explicative avec les identifiants de la congrégation pour accéder au site.

Les congrégations qui ne sont pas en mesure d’effectuer le dépôt du rapport en ligne peuvent utiliser le formulaire à imprimer, disponible sur le site de L’Église épiscopale ici.

Le délai canonique pour le Rapport paroissial 2018 de votre diocèse est fixé au 1er mars.  Nous vous prions de vérifier avec votre diocèse si des démarches spécifiques sont requises par celui-ci.

D’ici au 1er mai, tous les rapports doivent avoir été revus et marqués comme complets par votre diocèse auprès du Bureau exécutif de la Convention générale.

Les congrégations qui n’ont pas reçu l’envoi par courrier postal concernant le Rapport paroissial 2018 doivent immédiatement contacter leur administrateur pour obtenir leur identifiant de connexion.

Rendez-vous ici pour obtenir les instructions et le livret de travail.

“Je suis très reconnaissant des efforts considérables prodigués par le clergé et par notre leadership au niveau des congrégations pour la préparation minutieuse du Rapport paroissial,” a ajouté le révérend canon Barlowe.

Le Rapport paroissial constitue la plus ancienne collecte de données en continu effectuée par L’Église épiscopale.  Selon la tradition et le canon, les exigences en matière de production des rapports sont établies par le Comité de la chambre des députés sur l’état de l’église grâce au formulaire validé par le Conseil exécutif de l’Église.  Considéré à travers toute L’Église Épiscopale comme un rite de passage annuel sous l’égide du cadre dirigeant de la Convention générale, le Rapport paroissial touche chaque congrégation de notre église.  Considéré en même temps que d’autres données, y compris celles du registre des ordinations et du registre de la Convention générale, le rapport paroissial permet de dresser un état des lieux de l’Église.

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Los Informes Parroquiales de 2018 deben estar en las diócesis el 1 de marzo y en la Oficina de la Convención General el 1 de mayo: la presentación en línea está disponible

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 8:56am

La presentación en línea del Informe Parroquial de 2018 de todas las congregaciones de La Iglesia Episcopal ahora está disponible en el sitio web de La Iglesia Episcopal. Además del formulario, la página también ofrece instrucciones paso a paso y libros de trabajo para guiarle a usted a través de este proceso.

“El informe anual de parroquial ha desempeñado tradicionalmente un papel importante a medida que la Iglesia planifica su misión y su ministerio”, dijo el Reverendo Canónigo Dr. Michael Barlowe, Oficial Ejecutivo de la Convención General.

Barlowe también señaló que todas las congregaciones deberían haber recibido su paquete del Informe Parroquial 2018 por correo. El correo del Informe Parroquial incluía una carta explicativa junto con la información de inicio de sesión de la congregación.

Las congregaciones que no puedan presentar su solicitud en línea pueden utilizar un formulario imprimible, disponible en el sitio web de La Iglesia Episcopal aquí.

La fecha límite canónica para el Informe Parroquial 2018 a su Diócesis es el 1 de marzoSin embargo, consulte con su diócesis para conocer en particular los requisitos diocesanos.

Para el 1 de mayo, todos los informes deben haber sido revisados ​​y marcados como completos por sus diócesis para la Oficina Ejecutiva de la Convención General.

Las congregaciones que no recibieron el correo del Informe Parroquial 2018 deben comunicarse inmediatamente con su administrador diocesano para obtener su información de inicio de sesión.

Las instrucciones y los libros de ejercicios están disponibles aquí.

“Estoy agradecido por el considerable esfuerzo del clero y el liderazgo congregacional en la preparación cuidadosa del Informe Parroquial”, agregó Barlowe.

El Informe Parroquial es la recopilación de datos más antigua y continua de La Iglesia Episcopal. Por tradición y canon, los requisitos de información son desarrollados por el Comité de la Cámara de los Diputados sobre el Estado de la Iglesia, utilizando un formulario aprobado por el Consejo Ejecutivo de la Iglesia. Visto como un rito anual de paso en La Iglesia Episcopal, y supervisado por el Oficial Ejecutivo de la Convención General, el Informe Parroquial afecta a todas las congregaciones de la Iglesia. Junto con otros datos, incluido el del Registro de Ordenaciones y el Registrador de la Convención General, el Informe Parroquial proporciona una perspectiva del estado de la Iglesia.

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Tribunal de Revisión para Obispos: Rvdmo. J. Jon Bruno

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 8:45am

El Tribunal de Revisión para Obispos dio a conocer, el 31 de enero de 2019, su dictamen en el asunto disciplinario del Título IV que implicaba al Rvdmo. J. Jon Bruno. El Tribunal de Revisión sostuvo la decisión del tribunal eclesiástico [o Panel de Audiencias] y la sentencia, aunque ajustó la misma de que comenzara con la decisión del Tribunal Eclesiástico y no con el dictamen del Tribunal de Revisión.

El Tribunal de Revisión se reunió en Atlanta, Georgia, a fines de septiembre para oír los alegatos orales de las partes. La decisión del Tribunal se elaboró a lo largo de las ocho semanas subsiguientes, y los miembros del tribunal revisaron la decisión y la firmaron en el transcurso de las semanas que siguieron a la Navidad.

En el proceso de apelación, “…el Tribunal de Revisión tiene un papel limitado. Ambas partes concuerdan que la norma de revisión está regida por el Canon IV.15.6 (b). Específicamente, el canon en cuestión requiere que:

[El Tribunal de Revisión amparará al apelante únicamente si, de acuerdo con las actas del caso que se apela, determina que la parte que solicita la revisión ha sido perjudicada sustancialmente por cualquiera de las siguientes casusas…

(6) Las decisiones del Panel de Audiencias no se apoyan en pruebas sustanciales  cuando se las analiza a la luz de las actas del caso que se apela. (Énfasis añadido) (p. 7 del dictamen).

En su dictamen, “El Tribunal de Revisión para Obispos utilizó la normativa de revisión establecida en el Canon IV.15.6(b) y encuentra que la mayoría de las determinaciones factuales del Panel de Audiencias se apoyan en pruebas sustanciales cuando se ven como un todo a la luz del acta de apelación. El Tribunal de Revisión encuentra además que el Panel de Audiencias no interpretó ni aplicó erróneamente la Constitución y Cánones de La Iglesia Episcopal, ni cometió un error procesal ni incurrió en un proceso decisorio contrario al Título IV. Finalmente, el Tribunal de Revisión ratifica la suspensión de tres años del procesado, a partir del 2 de agosto de 2017”. (p. 6 del dictamen).

El Tribunal de Revisión para Obispos agradece la oportunidad de servir a la Iglesia. Creemos que la decisión a la que se ha llegado en el asunto del obispo Bruno es justa, pero no causa de celebración en ningún ámbito. Esperamos que la decisión aporte claridad a los requisitos canónicos por los cuales nos gobernamos, promueva la reparación y la reconciliación, y resulte útil a las diócesis y obispos en sus ministerios.

Rvdmo. Stephen T. Lane, obispo de Maine
Presidente, Tribunal de Revisión para Obispos

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As election nears, Maine Bishop, Standing Committee keep candidate cleared in discipline matter on slate

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 3:17pm

[Episcopal News Service]  Diocese of Maine Bishop Stephen T. Lane and the Standing Committee issued a statement Feb. 7 regarding one of the candidates for the 10th bishop of Maine. A response from the candidate, also follows. An election convention is scheduled for Feb. 9 in Bangor.

On Wednesday, January 30, 2019, the Bishop and Standing Committee received information regarding one of our nominees for bishop, the Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee.

It was alleged that the Rev. Canon Mallonee failed to report the sexual abuse of a student by another priest when the Rev. Canon Mallonee was Chaplain at the University of Kansas in the late 1980’s. The Diocese of New York, which has jurisdiction in this matter, has determined that the facts of the matter do not support the allegation, and the Intake Officer of New York has dismissed the complaint. Under our canons, the person who brought the complaint has thirty (30) days to appeal, and the appeal period will overlap our Electing Convention by several weeks.

As it stands now, there is currently no charge against the Rev. Canon Mallonee, and she remains on the ballot. We believe that we need to report to the Electing Convention the possibility of an appeal. In preparing this statement, the Bishop and Standing Committee have conferred with the Bishop for Pastoral Development and the nominee.

The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Bishop of Maine
The Rev. Maria Hoecker, President of the Standing Committee
The Rev. Sarah Gavit, Ms. Brenda Hamilton, The Rev. Timothy Higgins
Mr. Douglas Mayer, Mr. Charles Priest, Members of the Standing Committee

A Statement from the Rev. Cn. Anne Mallonee

Dear Friends,

I commend the decision for full transparency that your Bishop and Standing Committee have made on this matter. I am grateful for the dismissal by the Diocese of New York.

The Episcopal Church has made an important commitment to address past misconduct — arising from the #MeToo movement — and to transform our Church into a safer place for all. As a priest I fully embrace this commitment.


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New Anglican Communion bishops receive induction in Canterbury, Lambeth and the ACO

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 2:28pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will Feb. 7 welcome nearly 30 new Anglican bishops from around the world to his official London residence Lambeth Palace. Earlier inthe day, the bishops were at the Anglican Communion Office (ACO) in west London. They are taking part in an annual 10-day course run by Canterbury Cathedral – the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion – to teach them about the role of a bishop and the Anglican Communion. This year’s cohort comes from Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Melanesia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Scotland, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, the United States, and Zimbabwe.

Read the entire article here.

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Archbishop of Canterbury meets Jordan’s King Abdullah during regional Primates’ Meeting in Amman

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 2:23pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who was in the Jordanian capital Amman for a regional Anglican Primates’ Meeting, has met King Abdullah II of Jordan. A statement issued by the Royal Court said that the meeting covered Jordan’s efforts in safeguarding Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and preserving its identity as a unifying city of peace; as well as Jordan’s efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and harmony.

Read the entire article here.

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Presiding Bishop speaks at National Prayer Breakfast, emphasizes love over divisions

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 2:19pm

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, with President Donald Trump seated at a table to his right, read a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in brief remarks Feb. 7 at the 66th annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Curry was one of several faith and government leaders asked to offer prayers, scripture readings and blessings at the beginning of the morning program. The presiding bishop, who spoke for about three minutes, noted that the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 often is read at weddings – “Love is patient; love is kind” – but he also explained that Paul was writing about more than a sentimental kind of love.

“He wasn’t thinking about a wedding. He was worried about a community that had divisions in itself. And he wrote to show them the way,” Curry said.

Video of Curry’s remarks can be found here or on the clip below.

This year’s keynote speaker was Gary Haugen, chief executive officer of International Justice Mission. Haugen described working as an intern with South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu when Tutu was a leader in the movement to end apartheid. He spoke of faith’s ability to triumph over forces of division. And he called for action against 21st century slavery, the cause championed by his organization.

“Even in this divided area there’s good that we all agree should be done,” Haugen said.

He was followed by Trump, who spoke for about 20 minutes. Among the highlights was the president’s praise for faith leaders who backed one of the few bipartisan achievements during the first half of his term, a criminal justice reform bill aimed at reducing the nation’s prison population and correcting racial disparities in sentencing. The bill, which passed in December, was supported by the Episcopal Church’s nonpartisan Office of Government Relations, based in Washington.

“American is a nation that believes in redemption,” Trump said. “Every day, the people in this room demonstrate the power of faith to transform lives, heal communities and lift up the forgotten.”

The high-profile annual event comes just two days after the president’s state of the union speech, in which Trump issued a call for unity while tensions are running high. He, Democrats and even some members of his own Republican Party are at odds on a range of issues, particularly immigration.

Curry received a burst of international attention and acclaim last year when he preached at the royal wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and Meagan Markle, a sermon that focused on the power of love. His appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast provided him an opportunity to apply that message of love to a different context.

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. … Faith, hope and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” Curry said, reading from 1 Corinthians.

“Paul saw what Jesus meant,” Curry said. “That way of love can set us all free. He closed his remarks by quoting the traditional black spiritual “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” a common refrain in Curry’s sermons, including in his royal wedding sermon.

The National Prayer Breakfast has been held every year in Washington since 1953. It is hosted by members of Congress and organized by the Fellowship Foundation, a Christian nonprofit organization.

Before this year’s program began, Trump greeted Curry and the other speakers with handshakes as the president made his way to his seat. The president shook Curry’s hand again afterward on his way out. It wasn’t immediately clear if this was Curry’s first time meeting Trump face to face.

Episcopal News Service has requested a comment from the presiding bishop about his experience attending the breakfast, which was held at the Washington Hilton near Dupont Circle.

Curry often includes themes of faith-based unity over partisan division in his speeches and sermons while emphasizing that the Christian church courts trouble when it strays from the teachings of Jesus.

Last month, during his pastoral visit to the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, he preached at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Panama City, Florida, and recounted a recent visit to Washington. While on Capitol Hill, he participated in a prayer service that is attended regularly by Episcopalians in Congress.

“And some of them were Democrats, and some of them were Republicans,” Curry said. “And I realized baptism is the great equalizer.”

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

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Church once named after Confederate general dedicates new ‘home base’ for racial healing

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 3:25pm

Parishioners at Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia, attend a dedication Feb. 3 of the church’s Jonathan M. Daniels Community Room. Photo: Martha Ann Burford

[Episcopal News Service] The Diocese of Southwestern Virginia gathered in Roanoke at the end of January for its 100th anniversary convention, which was capped by a lively Eucharist on Jan. 27 with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who heralded the moment as a time “to anticipate the future with revival.”

About an hour northeast of the 10,000-seat Berglund Center, where Curry preached, the diocese’s congregation in Lexington, Virginia, is hoping for a revival of its own – on a smaller scale, perhaps, but with the parish’s existence and identity at stake.

For more than 100 years, the congregation had been known as the R.E. Lee Memorial Church, a tribute to the Confederate general who served as a senior warden there after the Civil War. Facing pressure from Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas and from like-minded parishioners, the congregation’s vestry narrowly voted in September 2017 to change the name back to its original Grace Episcopal Church, though that resolution left a wound that is still healing.

“We lost a lot of people,” the Rev. James Hubbard, interim rector, said in a phone interview. “A good number of the folks who left have come back slowly. Some have not. I’m sure some will never come back, but it was for all sorts of reasons.”

A year and a half later, the congregation is charting a way forward by emphasizing racial reconciliation. On Feb. 3, parishioners were in in a festive mood for the dedication of three newly renovated gathering spaces in the church’s undercroft, including a community room created as a “home base” for the congregation’s racial healing efforts through the Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community framework.

The Jonathan M. Daniels Community Room is part of the renovated undercroft area at Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia. Photo: Grace Episcopal, via Facebook

The dedication ceremony, held between the congregation’s two Sunday morning services, featured a Psalm reading and a blessing: “Lord God almighty … look with favor on your servants who will gather in this clean and simple space. Enable them to communicate truth, to foster love, to uphold justice and right, and to provide enjoyment. Let them promote and support that peace between peoples.”

Grace Episcopal Church’s community room, backed by a $47,000 grant from the United Thank Offering, or UTO, is named after Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a white Episcopal seminarian who was killed in 1965 while shielding a black girl in Alabama from a shotgun blast. Daniels attended the church in Lexington while he was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute, and the Episcopal Church honors him as a martyr on his feast day, Aug. 14.

The UTO grant application noted that the congregation in Lexington “nearly came apart” in 2017 after two years of tense debate over its name. The process of congregational soul-searching began in the wake of the 2015 massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a racist gunman with a fondness for Confederate symbols.

“I think the general feeling in the parish is that we have come through a very bad time but are now on the other side of it – wiser and more sober-minded, I think, for having gone through it,” Anne Hansen, a former vestry member, told Episcopal News Service by email.

The congregation in Lexington, Virginia, changed its name from R.E. Lee Memorial Church to Grace Episcopal Church in September 2017.

Hubbard expressed hope that the congregation has begun moving past the bitter conflict over its identity and history. “I don’t think conflicts get wholly smoothed over,” he said, but “it’s a much happier place.”

The congregation took a big step forward in May when it invited monks from Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York, to lead parishioners in a healing and reconciliation workshop, Hubbard said. Church members who had taken opposing positions during the debate over the old name faced each other across the aisle of the church and asked for forgiveness.

“There were people with tears running right down their faces,” Hubbard said.

The congregation is working to add Beloved Community events to its schedule of activities in the community room. Even before the room’s dedication, the church had begun hosting events aimed at racial healing, such as a hymn sing that was joined by a half-dozen churches, black and white, in Lexington.

Grace Episcopal “is really solidly behind” the work of racial reconciliation, Hubbard said, adding that everyone also is still riding high after Curry’s rousing sermon at the diocesan convention.

“The parish is really pumped up, like the entire diocese is,” Hubbard said.

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

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Anglican leaders in Arabian Gulf welcome Pope Francis’ visit to United Arab Emirates

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 2:28pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] This week’s historic visit to the United Arab Emirates by Pope Francis resulted in “extraordinary scenes,” said the Rev. Andrew Thompson, the senior Anglican chaplain in Abu Dhabi.

During his visit, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. News reports cite a variety of numbers of those attending, varying from 130,000 to 180,000.

Thompson was one of those present. He told Anglican Communion News Service that Anglicans and Roman Catholics have, for decades, “literally been neighbors” in the UAE. “In every one of the emirates of the UAE, the Anglican churches lie literally in the shadow of the gigantic compounds which are the spiritual homes to thousands of Roman Catholics,” he said.

Read the full article here.

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Coffee on the Corner helps Fort Worth Episcopalians get to know, serve their neighbors

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 12:42pm

Donnelle Guynn, a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Meadow in Fort Worth, offers hot sausage biscuits to a mother and her children during a recent Coffee on the Corner morning outside the church. Meadowbrook Elementary School in the distance is across the street from the church. Looking on are Adriana Cline, left, St Luke’s bookkeeper and assistant diocesan treasurer, and the Rev. Karen Calafat, rector of St. Luke’s. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Fort Worth, Texas] When you look out the window of your church and see kids and their parents walking past every morning on their way to neighborhood schools and a school bus stop, what comes to mind?

“We figured that there might be needs that we might be able to plug into,” the Rev. Karen Calafat said she and some parishioners at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Meadow thought. They had some ideas, but they didn’t know whether those ideas would be helpful. “We were just looking for a way to connect, find out what their needs are and see if there was any way we could partner with them.”

The Rev. Karen Calafat, rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Meadow in Fort Worth, Texas, chats with a mother during the parish’s weekly Coffee on the Corner. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

That’s when their discovery that middle school students needed college logo t-shirts led to the every Friday morning Coffee on the Corner, a six-week experiment when it began in September and has gone on ever since then.

Calafat and St. Luke’s member Donnell Guynn recently explained that trajectory one chilly Friday morning between serving coffee, cocoa, sausage biscuits and other treats. At a meeting with counselors at the nearby Middlebrook Middle School, parishioners learned that the students needed the shirts for those days when they came to school out of uniform or on special when they can wear such logo shirts.

The dress code conversation coincided with the church’s yard sale, so volunteers culled out all the college logo T-shirts from the donations and gave them to the middle school. “It just started the conversation,” Calafat said.

At the same time, the parish was hosting another kind of conversation, sponsored by Living Room Conversations, which helps people who disagree find ways to work together and respect each other. This past July the monthly gathering at St. Luke’s discussed refugee families and the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy. Eight “brave women” were present, Calafat said, and they decided that while they knew little about refugees, they knew there were immigrants in their neighborhood. The women wanted to find a way to tell them that St. Luke’s “was not on the bandwagon” of the administration’s policies.

Three of the women got together to talk more, but “we realized we didn’t even know what the neighborhood needs,” Calafat said. “We can’t plan some big program because what if it’s not needed? So, we just honed it down to let’s stand on the corner and get to know the neighbors, give them a cup of coffee and just visit.”

St. Luke’s has a strategic corner in the neighborhood. The area elementary school is across from the front of the church and the middle school is just down the side street. That side street is also where high school students wait, sometimes in their parents’ vehicles, sometimes on the sidewalk, for buses to take them to various buildings elsewhere in Fort Worth, including the district World Language Institute. The vestry is considering building a bus shelter for those high school students.

As the Fridays went by, the volunteers learned a lot. For instance, an early thought about offering English-as-a-second-language classes became a reality, but in reverse. The St. Luke’s women began asking the Spanish-speaking parents the English names of some of the food they were handing out, such as bananas and oranges. The parents would quiz the women in subsequent weeks to see if they remembered their translations.

One mother later suggested that the parents and parishioners continue trying to learn each other’s languages, and now the morning chats are becoming more and more bilingual.

One recent day some Spanish-speaking students brought a newly arrived Asian friend with them. Then there are the two Rwandan sisters who walk their younger sister to the elementary school and then hang out around Coffee on the Corner before they go to school. The Rwandan sisters speak five languages, according to Calafat and Guynn.

A subtle invitation to leave prayer requests stands on the treat cart. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

It’s not all about coffee and goodies. Prominent on the rolling treat cart on the corner is a brightly colored mug with squares of paper asking, “How can we pray for you?/Como podermus orar por usted?” The mug is the invitation; the volunteers never push anyone.

Calafat said she takes any cards that are left on the cart to her desk. “I just kind of keep them in front of me and lift them up in prayer, and when they come back the next week we ask them how things are going,” she said.

One morning a woman visited, saying she had seen Coffee on the Corner but had never stopped.  That day, she said, she needed prayers for her marriage. Three or four weeks later she returned to say she and her husband had a good week.  “It’s just about keeping track of people,” Calafat said.

Melissa Subjeck, the college and career readiness coach at Meadowbrook Middle School, stops by nearly every Friday when she drops off her daughter for pre-K classes. She likes to greet some of her middle school students as they take their younger siblings to the elementary school.

Subjeck praised both the parish’s initial effort to give college T-shirts to the middle school and the coffee stand. “I think this church is pretty remarkable,” she said. “This is one of the highlights of my Fridays. It starts you off in a good mood.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

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Anglican church in Bermuda closes after heavy rains cause roof to collapse

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 4:27pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] An Anglican church on the north Atlantic island of Bermuda has been forced to close its doors after heavy rains caused the roof to collapse. But regular ministry at St. Mary’s Church in Warwick, Bermuda, is continuing, with services being held in the Church Hall. No one was inside the church when the roof collapsed.

Read the full article here.

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Iraq’s prime minister visits St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 4:25pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Iraq Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has paid a visit St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad. The prime minister was greeted by the parish priest, the Rev. Faiz Jerjes, who gave a tour of the church complex, including its clinic and school, and briefed him on the Anglican presence in the country. St. George’s has a long history of peace-building and reconciliation in the region.

Read the full article here.

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Presiding Bishop urges clergy to talk with Florida bishop about same-sex marriage disagreements

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 4:18pm

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry told clergy in the Diocese of Florida Feb. 4 to work hard to stay in relationship with Bishop John Howard even if they disagree with his opposition to same-sex marriage.

During a public conversation between Curry and Howard, the Florida bishop acknowledged that the presiding bishop had heard from people who were concerned about his plan to allow same-sex marriage in the diocese despite that objection. “I wonder if there is anything that you would like to say to us” about the ongoing conversation in the diocese, Howard asked of Curry.

“The inclusion that is at the heart of gospel that welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people is the same inclusive outstretched arms of Jesus that welcomes those how disagree with us,” Curry said.

“I believe that that conversation, that open availability to each other, face to face, it’s the way forward,” he said. “I would encourage anyone here [to] come and talk to him let him talk with you. Let him talk with you. Treat each as brothers and sisters and siblings in Christ, and you’ll find a way. I know that.”

“I know this guy,” he said, gesturing towards Howard. “We’ve been bishops together a long time. He has firmly held convictions. He’s a strong guy; he’s an old lawyer, but he’s a lawyer with a Jesus heart. I just would encourage you to sit down and talk with your brother and I know he will talk with you.”

Some Florida Episcopalians have said that Howard is not living up to the General Convention’s desire to give same-sex couples unfettered access to same-sex marriage in all of the church’s domestic dioceses by putting what they perceive as threatening roadblocks in the way. Howard, who objects to such marriages, has said that’s not true, calling his process one of “collaboration and transparency” that simply requires conversation among him, a rector who wants to offer same-sex marriage and that rector’s wardens.

Howard formulated his policy in response to General Convention Resolution B012, passed in July to end the church’s requirement that bishops give their permission for clergy to use two marriage rites that the previous meeting of convention had authorized (via Resolution A054) for trial use by both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Curry described how B012 emerged from an attempt to find a way for Episcopalians with “diametrically opposed principals” to remain in relationship without asking one side to renounce its strongly held theological beliefs or the other to give up its access to the sacramental rite of marriage. B012, Curry said, “was the result of people who differ staying in conversation and relationship with each other long enough for the Holy Spirit to show them a better way.”

“I am naïve enough to believe that if Elizabeth I could find a way [to do that] in the 16th century, we can find it in the 21st [century],” he said. “We are a tradition that has found a way to reconcile diametrically opposed positions without compromising either one. It’s called Anglicanism.”

Curry was referring to the Elizabethan Settlement, which sought an inclusive middle way for English Christianity between traditional Roman Catholic traditions and the then-emerging Protestant expression.

The presiding bishop also told the clergy gathering that General Convention last summer understood B012 “was not the permanent solution” and to it called for the formation of the Task Force on Communion Across Difference to continue to grapple with those differences. That task force is holding its first meeting in mid-March.

Curry is spending Feb. 4-5 in the diocese for a previously scheduled visit. As part of his time in the diocese, Curry met with clergy and their spouses at St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville. He and Howard spent an hour and 15 minutes conversing in the nave, seated in armchairs in front of the altar as clergy in the pews listened. Howard asked questions of Curry. Some of those questions were synthesized from those submitted by the clergy ahead of time, according to what the Very Rev. Kate Moorehead, cathedral dean, said in her introduction.

Presiding bishops often include clergy-only gatherings during their diocesan visits. However, commenters on the unofficial Diocese of Florida public group Facebook page had criticized what they see as the closed nature of the planned meeting. As is typical, Curry has a number of other public events scheduled in the Diocese of Florida during his visit, at which Episcopalians will have opportunities to interact with him.

He will participate in evensong later on Feb. 4 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tallahassee. The next day Curry will visit with second- to eighth-graders at Holy Comforter Episcopal School in Tallahassee and have lunch at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, a historically African-American congregation. That afternoon, the presiding bishop is due to confirm a small number of prisoners at Wakulla Correctional Institution outside Tallahassee.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

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As Episcopal Church pushes to end mass incarceration, New York church takes up bail reform

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 4:18pm

The Rikers Island prison complex (foreground) is seen from an airplane in the Queens borough of New York. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, in addition to placing racial reconciliation among the church’s top priorities, has voted since 2015 to emphasize criminal justice reform as an essential step toward ending the American system of mass incarceration that disproportionately punishes people of color.

An example of that system – and, for reformers, an opportunity – can be found on an island in the middle of New York’s East River.

Rikers Island is the city’s primary incarceration site, home to eight inmate facilities that hold most of the more than 8,000 people who in an average day are held behind bars while they wait for a court hearing or trial or as they serve their jail sentences.  More than half of the city’s inmates and detainees are black, and a third are Hispanic.

Last fall, members of Trinity Church Wall Street, an affluent parish in Lower Manhattan, joined a “mass bail out” of certain detainees being held at city jails. The congregation is on the front lines of a movement to close Rikers Island as a costly, unjust, ineffective and deteriorating relic of an outdated system. Advocates argue for replacing Rikers with jails in each of the city’s five boroughs, where they would be more convenient for court hearings and family visits, though such a transformation depends first on an overall reduction in the number of people the city incarcerates.

“The larger piece is we need to make Rikers no longer necessary,” the Rev. Winnie Varghese, the church’s director of justice and reconciliation, told Episcopal News Service in an interview.

That was an underlying recommendation of a 2017 report issued by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, whose work received financial support from a dozen philanthropic organizations, including Trinity Wall Street.

“Research shows that incarceration begets incarceration,” the commission’s report said. “Spending time behind bars also begets other problems, including eviction, unemployment, and family dysfunction. These burdens fall disproportionately on communities of color.”

The commission set a target of reducing the city’s jail population to 5,000 in a decade, which would mark a dramatic turnaround from a peak of more than 20,000 people behind bars in New York in the early 1980s.

Most of that reduction would be achieved by bail reforms, by changing the way the city holds suspects who are accused of crimes but not yet convicted. Pretrial detainees make up three of every four people incarcerated in the city.

Advocates for bail reform argue that many of those pretrial detainees remain at Rikers Island simply because they are too poor to pay their bail, not because they have been accused of a serious crime or are a significant danger to the public. Bail’s purpose, they point out, is merely to ensure that a defendant will appear in court for a hearing, or else the defendant risks forfeiting that money.

“What this system has turned into is a way to keep poor people in jail because they cannot afford bail,” Jonathan Lippman, a former state chief judge who chairs the reform commission, told Varghese in a video interview produced by Trinity Wall Street.

Lippman advocates eliminating cash bail altogether as one safeguard against unnecessary detentions, which often do more damage than good, he said. Simply spending a day or two at Rikers can have a profound effect on a detainee, and taken to extremes it can ruin lives, as Lippman noted with the example of Kalief Browder.

Browder, accused of stealing a backpack in 2010 at age 16, was arrested and held at Rikers for three years, much of that time spent in solitary confinement, because his family was unable to afford his bail. He was never tried or convicted, and after he finally was released, he hanged himself at age 22. Last month, New York agreed to pay Browder’s family $3.3 million in a settlement over the young man’s detention.

“What a waste of a human being,” Lippman said. “This was a trifecta of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system.” Browder, Lippman explained, was a child charged as an adult, suffered through extended delays in his case and was not able to immediately return to his family because of a flawed bail system.

The Rev. Winnie Varghese of Trinity Church Wall Street interviews Jonathan Lippman, former New York State chief judge, about bail reform. Photo: Trinity Wall Street, from video

Mass incarceration has been called “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander in her book of that name, which likens it to slavery and segregation as another race-based caste system. In 2015, General Convention passed a resolution that encouraged Episcopalians to read Alexander’s book.

Also in 2015, General Convention took a detailed position against mass incarceration in another resolution that acknowledged “implicit racial bias and racial profiling result in a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates people of color” and challenged the church “at every level to commit mindfully and intentionally to dismantling our current mass incarceration system.”

The resolution also urges reform of bail bond systems “which rely upon often-unlicensed and unregulated bail bond agents and on conditioning release from pre-trial incarceration solely on the ability to pay.”

New York isn’t the only state facing pressure to reform its bail laws. Last year, California became the first state to eliminate cash bond for suspects awaiting trial, though critics of that reform legislation argued the new law “actually undermines genuine criminal justice reform” because of its use of an algorithm to determine when suspects should be detained or released.

New Jersey, though not eliminating all cash bail, greatly limited its application through a law that took effect in January 2017. Crime rates appear to have plummeted in the two years since then, WNYC reported, though it wasn’t clear if the bail reform was the reason. The law’s lasting effects are still up for debate.

Those states’ laws and other examples around the country are helping to guide the work of reform in New York, Varghese said. “Frankly, we’re learning from other places,” she said, and she expressed optimism about the bail reforms offered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his state budget proposal last month.

Cuomo’s legislation calls for an end to cash bail and a significant reduction in the number of suspects held in jail awaiting trial. The legislation also would require police to rely on tickets rather than arrests for low-level crimes, though prosecutors could request a hearing to determine whether a suspect is too much of a threat to be released while a case is pending.

The Episcopal Church and other Christian denominations can add a powerful voice to such debates, Varghese said.

“I think churches have language around the morality of holding a person, taking the freedom of a person who has not been convicted of anything,” Varghese said. The Episcopal Church, especially given its vocal support of anti-poverty initiatives, “can bring some real moral weight.”

Varghese personally participated in the Mass Bail Out. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights launched the campaign in early October to pay bail for female and teenage suspects held in Rikers, both as a direct action that would reduce the jail population at Rikers and as way to drawn attention to the cause of bail reform and closing the facility.

Organizers raised money from different donors to pay the bails. The role of volunteers like Varghese was to go to corrections offices, fill out paperwork and turn over a check to release the suspects. Varghese declined to provide to ENS any identifying information about the person she helped bail out other than to say it was a woman being held at Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers for a small-time charge, equivalent to shoplifting.

“We want to show them that the faith community supports them,” Varghese said. “One night at Rikers Island can change your life for the worse.”

About $1.2 million in bail was posted during the campaign, freeing 105 people with bails ranging from $700 to $100,000, according to a New York Times report on the results. City officials initially raised safety concerns when the Mass Bail Out was announced, though only two of the suspects released through the campaign had failed to appear at their subsequent court hearings as of mid-November.

Varghese and Lippman spoke Jan. 31 at a breakfast forum on bail reform hosted by Trinity Wall Street. The event also featured several local and state lawmakers, though the human face of the problem was embodied early in the session by Marvin Mayfield, a reform advocate who spoke of his own experiences with the criminal justice system.

“I’ve been a victim of far more serious crimes in police custody than anything I’ve ever been arrested for,” Mayfield told the audience at the forum, video of which was posted online by Trinity Wall Street.

Marvin Mayfield, a bail reform advocate, speaks Jan. 31 at a breakfast forum hosted by Trinity Church Wall Street. Photo: Trinity Wall Street, via video

Mayfield spoke of being arrested a few years ago on suspicion of burglary and spending four months at Rikers Island because he didn’t have $10,000 to pay his bail. While there, he said, he was repeatedly assaulted by other detainees, who at one point broken his leg. He finally took a plea deal to end his ordeal.

“The system of money bail has not changed and is still disproportionately affecting the black and brown men and women of this state,” Mayfield said.

About 25,000 people are being held in jails across New York State each day, and Mayfield argued bail laws are a large factor in the injustices many of those people suffer while they are locked up.

“We must tell how [the laws are] hurting us,” Mayfield said. “We’ve all heard about the viciousness, the inhumanity, the brutality, the apathy, that exists in our county jails, but until you’ve lived it you can’t appreciate the true impact of having your freedom taken away and being tossed into a violent and hostile environment.

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

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