correspondents


America 1


More staff and declining numbers

Facing declining membership, The Episcopal Church plans to look at emergent church models in efforts to reach 'new generations,' Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said.

Reflecting on the state of the church in a wide-ranging interview with ELM, Bishop Jefferts Schori said there are 'many plans to address the trend' of decreasing attendance.

'Among the new staff at Church Center [in New York] are ones dedicated to church planting work, one dedicated to work in evangelism, and one for work with small congregations,' Bishop Jefferts Schori said. 'We're going to bring aboard another person who will help to teach the rest of us and challenge the rest of us to think about emergent church models - how the church can as a whole be more effective in presenting the Gospel in language and images and idioms that can be more readily understood by new generations.'

She also acknowledged that 'many parish clergy are exceedingly nervous about their annual fund drives' during the nation's ongoing economic crisis, but noted that 'We're not seeing a major impact yet at the church-wide level.

'History tells us that churches are usually the last to suffer in terms of bad economic times,' she said. 'People's generosity continues and particularly in their faith communities. Serving the needs of those with even less continues or grows in bad economic times. We are hopeful' Episcopal Life Media

 


Sweden

From The living Church,
15 January 2009
Society of St Pius X and claims of racism in Sweden


The Church of Sweden on Thursday cited lax internal oversight for why a conservative religious group that wants to convert Sweden to Catholicism and has leaders who deny the Holocaust was
given permission to hold meetings in Swedish churches.

The move comes on the heels of a Sver-iges Television (SVT) investigative news programme Uppdrag Granskning which revealed that the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), an ultra-conservative breakaway faction of the Catholic Church, had been holding meetings in Swedish churches.

In the programme, SSPX bishop Richard Williamson openly denied the Holocaust, adding that he did not believe Hitler purposefully gassed Jews to death or that any gas chambers existed.

'It's obvious that this is an extreme right-wing group. They deny the Holocaust, are extremely negative towards homosexuals, and express a number of racist attitudes,' Martin Lind, a bishop with the Swedish Church diocese in Linkoping in central Sweden, told the TT news agency.

According to the report, SSPX held meetings in Swedish churches on fifteen separate occasions, something that Lind vowed wouldn't happen again. 'If a church has a bishop who speaks in way as degrading as appeared in the programme, that's enough for me to suspend all organizational cooperation,' he said.


Convert plans conversion

The programme also told the story of Sten Sandmark, a former Church of Sweden vicar who left his 30-year-career with the church, after church leadership decided that same-sex couples could receive blessings in churches. He now says his new mission is to work with SSPX supporters in Sweden in a bid to convert Sweden back to Catholicism. SSPX was founded in 1970 by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, but lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the Vatican in 1975. It continues to operate, however, and claims to have 486 active priests in 63 countries and more than one million followers around the world. Sandmark is currently undergoing an accelerated training course in Germany to become an SSPX priest so he can begin working for the society in Sweden as soon as possible. When asked by the SVT what he and his followers are fighting for, Sandmark responded, 'That Sweden shall once again become Catholic' But an investigation of Swedish SSPX members by SVT revealed that several have ties to some of Sweden's most well-known right-wing and nationalist extremist groups, including the National Democrats (Nationaldemokraterna), the 30-novemberrorelsen ('November 30th movement') and the Nysvenska Rorelsen ('New Sweden movement'). In addition, the founder of SSPX in Sweden, Jonas de Geer, is also a well-known figure from Sweden's extreme right who has served as a spokesperson for the National Democrats and who recently spoke at the Nordic Festival (Nordiska festivalen), one of Sweden's largest neo-Nazi gatherings.

Sandmark freely admits that many SSPX members in Sweden could be considered right-wing extremists, but emphasizes the group isn't about politics and there isn't much he could do to prevent people from holding certain political views. 'Everyone is welcome. But not to discuss politics,' he told SVT; T can't prohibit anyone. We can't do that in Sweden.' According to Sandmark, SSPX likely attracts more right-wing than left-wing extremists because the former 'hold more traditional views' and are more 'conservative'. He's also confident about what lies ahead for him and the SSPX in Sweden. 'The future looks bright, that's what I believe,' he said. 'But it won't be free of difficulties.' 

This piece first appeared 
on the English language 
Swedish news site <news@thelocal.se>

 

Global South 


Challenge to divorce 


Orthodox Anglican archbishops have spoken clearly and decisively on the subject of homosexuality. They have publicly repudiated and rejected the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals to the priesthood, turning their backs on New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, an avowed homosexual, saying they will not recognize him due to his behaviour.

The 2003 consecration of Robinson has been a lightning rod issue that has brought the whole Anglican Communion to the brink of schism. As a result, the Anglican Communion of 55 million souls is deeply divided. This past summer, this division was highlighted by the realization of two global Anglican conferences, GAFCON (orthodox) and the Lambeth Conference (liberal). Deeper fractures are anticipated in the future.

But another issue, more pressing now that a new North American Anglican Province has been formed, is the issue of divorce. Liberal Episcopal bishops and a number of theologians have repeatedly made the point that Jesus had more to say about divorce than homosexuality and that he recognized only one single ground for divorce, adultery.


What did Jesus say?

There are divorced priests within the ranks of The Episcopal Church and there are many divorced priests who have left TEC and joined any one of the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions as well as a number that make up the new North American Anglican Province who are divorced.

The question Global South leaders are asking, as they contemplate the future of the new Anglican province within the Anglican Communion, is, what will they do with these priests, some with considerable seniority, who have been married, divorced and remarried, and if those divorces were on grounds of adultery or simply 'irreconcilable differences!

Many Global South primates believe that remarriage after divorce is itself adulterous, if the grounds for that divorce was not adultery. If it is simply 'irreconcilable differences' or some reason other than adultery, then they will not recognize those remarriages of priests who have been divorced.
They will consider those priests to be living in sin and committing the sin of adultery. They will want to question at least two evangelical rectors of large churches, one in Ft Worth with CANA, and one in Dallas under AMiA.

African practice

Most African provinces do not allow divorced persons to be priests, whatever the grounds. A number of African archbishops have been deeply sensitized and rebuffed by charges that they allow men who have multiple wives into their churches. African Anglican archbishops have uniformly rejected polygamous persons for the ordination process. Many regard 'serial monogamy' in the same light.
They will be taking a hard look at those priests in the new province who have been divorced and remarried. They will want to know the grounds for those divorces. If they do not measure up to the biblical standard of Jesus who recognized adultery as the sole grounds for divorce and remarriage, then Bishop Robert Duncan, Common Cause Moderator and Archbishop plenipotentiary, and his council of bishops will need to re-evaluate their status in the new Anglican province.

If women's ordination is a hot button issue for Anglo-Catholics and some evangelicals, then divorce promises to be an equal if not greater hot button issue for western evangelicals. They will have a lot of explaining to do to Global South Primates who do not accept divorced and remarried priests.
They will demand standards as thoroughly biblical on marriage and divorce (as they have done on homosexuality) from North American and European evangelicals as they do from their own priests.
Pollster George Barna noted that when evangelicals and non-evangelical born-again Christians are combined into an aggregate class of born-again adults, their divorce figure is statistically identical to that of non-born-again adults: 32% versus 33%, respectively. He noted that Americans have grown comfortable with divorce as a natural part of life.

'There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage,' the researcher indicated. Maybe so, but that is not how African Anglican archbishops see it. They will demand, and get, the highest biblical standards or heads could roll.

This piece first appeared
on <www. Virtueonline.org

 

America 2


Worsening financial crisis

Dioceses and parishes with a decidedly liberal bent are facing huge budget deficits and shortfalls. Many are cutting back services and staff as rectors and vestries face declining and ageing congregations, an economy in free fall, and emptying endowments. Some parishes are even admitting that the crisis might actually be about what the church is teaching or failing to teach. The years 2003 - 2008 marked the season for hundreds of orthodox Episcopal parishes to choose to leave TEC. The years 2009 to 2013 will be the season for churches and dioceses to close, as they are no longer financially viable. Future historians will point to 2003 (Gene Robinson's consecration) as the turning point when the serious declines really began. History will not be kind to the current leadership of the church. VOL believes this period in the history of The Episcopal Church will be studied by students, from generations to come, as lessons on how not to run a church.

Hopefully, 2014 to 2019 will mark a turning point as a season of restoration and return to traditional, historic Christianity for those parishes that have survived the current period of divine judgement.

The frightening statistics

The following is a sampling from across the country .. 169 people who pledged $50,000 last year have failed to return their pledges. As a result, Christ Church Cathedral, in the heart of Houston, has announced they will be cutting their support for the diocese unless these folk have a change of heart.
On the progress of their Every Member Canvass, Dean Joe Reynolds wrote, '2008 hasbeen a tough year financially for a variety of reasons. As of this writing we have received 442 pledges of financial support in 2009 totalling about $1,920,000. There are 169 pledges for 2008 that have not yet been renewed for 2009 representing about $500,000 in support for the ministry of the cathedral. The proposed budget for 2009 has been reduced to 'bare bones' with a virtual freeze in compensation and leaving some staff vacancies unfilled. Support for the ministry of the Diocese of Texas has been reduced along with most programme budgets.'


Flagship on Wall Street

From the flagship socialite St Thomas Fifth Avenue Church in New York City, there will be no salary increases for the staff of the church and choir school in 2009. Fr Andrew Meade wrote, As we are all acutely aware, the world's economies are in the midst of a recession and financial crisis that is expected to last well into 2009. The Every Member Canvass is about 16% lower than it was this time last year.

The church's endowment, which underwrites the vast majority of our operating budget, has declined by over 30%.' Meade put the finishing touch on his speech by saying, 'We must bring St Thomas through this financial crisis 'whole'. To this end, we are making significant budget reductions in 2009.'

The church will no longer advertise in the Gray Lady (New York Times) or on WQXR, a saving of over $100,000. The church will cut its flower budget by half. They will also seek ways to reduce the cost of the choir. For Easter Day 2009, the church lacks sufficient funds for brass and instrumental music. The Leslie Lang Memorial Fund offsets some of what the church needs, but it is still $6,000 short. Even the Rector's Chronicle is being mailed to only a list of recorded contributors.


'Most of us are scared'

From the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Buffalo in the Diocese of Western New York comes word from the rector, the Revd Armand John Kreft, 'Most of us are scared at this point. These are very hard economic times. Unemployment is beyond comprehension, our pensions are shaky, food costs are high. I need to ask you for money to keep the church open. Unlike other denominations, we do not get financial aid from the diocese or national church. Every parish in The Episcopal Church must be self-sustaining. And we have a modest budget for 2009 of $172,000. We were left a small
legacy by Margaret Bittner. The vestry voted to shoot the wad by calling me as their full time rector. At present we have received only 14 pledges. Last year we had 30 pledges. Some we can count on coming in later, others we just don't know.'

A flood insurance settlement gave the church $180,000 to replace an organ. It will now go to keep the parish afloat. Attendance has declined from 53 to 22 with a budget of $27,000. The church needs $30,000 with an annual budget of $172,000. Pledge units are down for next year. The endowment will be gone in less than three years. The chances of this parish surviving are slim.


No endowment income

From St Mark's Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois, in the Diocese of Chicago, comes word that their endowment has fallen below its principal so they cannot draw from it. They will have to find somewhere else to fund their deficit. The parish has a history of deficit budgets so the vestry and interim priest have been working to create a balanced budget where expenses are in line with anticipated income.
Some vacant staff positions went unfilled. At the Annual Meeting in January, a 2008 budget called for $40,000 in income from the Endowment Fund (aka the 1930 Trust Fund). However, in the wake of the recent market crash and subsequent volatility, the fund fell below the level of inviolable principal, which means the church is not able to receive money from the Trust and will therefore not receive $40,000 in income, as originally planned. From All Saints in Hilton Head, South Carolina, comes this word from the senior warden. 'The downturn in the economy has made it necessary for many families to adjust how they spend their money. All Saints will have to make similar changes due to a shortfall in 2008 pledge receipts and the expectation that 2009 pledges may fall $60,000 below our budgeted expenses. We will only spend money that has been pledged or received. The vestry prioritized the 2009 budget items to help in making adjustments if pledges fell short of estimated. Not all pledges have been received and the 2009 budget is not yet finalized; we anticipate the need to economize most everywhere and church programmes will need to be more modest in 2009. We will have used up our cash cushions to make up for the shortfall in 2008 pledge receipts and will need to carefully operate within the budget in 2009.'

More bad news

The Diocese of Northern Indiana and Gethsemane Episcopal Church in Marion, Indiana, states that attendance has dropped from 100 to 75 people and that giving has gone from $150,000 in 2002 to $105,000 in 2007. A chart shows steady losses in attendance from 2002 to 2007. In 2008, attendance dropped to half. However, an unexpected legacy of $76,000 means they can balance their budget of $185,000 for another year. But the church still needs pledges. After 2009, it will be anybody's guess how things will shape up. News came in from one of the biggest churches in TEC in terms of attendance: major cutbacks were announced at St Columba's, which like the Washington National Cathedral and so many other churches, is deep in recession. At a recent parish forum, Andrew Hullinger presented the details of their financial struggles. The budget in 2009 will be trimmed. The church won't be filling an open clergy position. The position of the music programme librarian who is departing will go unfilled. A part-time musician position will be eliminated. The Revd George Timberlake's position will be eliminated as well. Another post will also remain unfilled. More work will be done by volunteers. 'It's not too late to pitch in and pledge,' cried the rector.

From Trinity Episcopal in Danville, Kentucky, comes word from the rector that pledging there is barely sustaining the church. If they do not receive more than 62 pledges, the church will fall into Mission status.

This piece first appeared 
on <www.virtueonline.org>

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