Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Ministry training that flows in the Nass River valley

Posted on: November 22nd, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

The clear, salmon-rich waters of the Nass River cut through snow-peaked northern British Columbia, drawing people and animals to feed on its gifts. So significant are these waters’ ability to nourish and sustain that they were named for Indigenous words meaning ‘food depot’ or ‘top lip’ and ‘bottom lip’. Thousands of years after its first feeding of people, the Nass River valley again is a vital source of sustenance. This time, however, the faithful of the Diocese of Caledonia are finding in the valley food for the spirit to fuel a journey of transformation and renewal.

Like so many other pockets of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Diocese of Caledonia faces distinct challenges in growing Eucharistic communities and carrying out its ministries. The parishes of the diocese are peppered across rugged terrain and have difficulty attracting and supporting full-time stipendiary clergy. The ministry context here also has a unique blending of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Anglican communities as it partially overlays the traditional lands of the Nisga’a First Nation.

These broad challenges were given a particular voice when Rev. Gary Davis of Holy Trinity in Aiyansh approached Diocese of Caledonia Bishop William Anderson for some support. The retirement of some clergy and other factors left Davis as the only full-time priest in the Nass River valley. He was struggling to meet the needs of the communities there, including offering Nisga’a liturgies.

Bishop Anderson understood and responded to the hunger for more training and education in his diocese. His first step was adapting a lay reader training course for Caledonia, which would end up serving as the first module in a larger program aimed at meeting ministry needs in the Nass River valley and beyond.

A small group of faithful Anglicans eagerly signed up for the opportunity and in late 2013 became the first cohort in an emerging theological training program. Perhaps by no coincidence at all, the first group all came from service professions requiring keen pastoral skills. The experiences as schoolteachers, nurses, and administrators primed them with many of the tools required for parish ministry.

A grant from Council of the North is seeding the early years of this initiative, and covers administration and travel costs. With the short-term viability of the project secured, the diocese went on to create modules on basic preaching skills, how to study and read the bible, and so on. Archdeacon Ernest Buchanan, who administers the program, says they started with foundational courses to make sure all students had the basic training they needed to move on to more advanced topics and ministry practices.

The diocese has secured permission from Trinity School for Ministry to adapt some of its extension ministry modules for the Canadian context. This includes adding more history from the Anglican Church of Canada and understanding the unique place of the Nisga’a First Nation in the life of the church in Nass Valley. Over the course of three years, students will also have modules on biblical scholarship, history, theology, ethics, church administration, and more. Of equal importance is the cohort’s hands-on experience in parish ministry and ongoing group discussion about leadership, mission, and growing vibrant Eucharistic communities.

The immediate goal of this training and education initiative is to build up the community of lay readers in the diocese. This foundational training can be put to service in support of parish ministry right away or it might also serve as a good basis if any participant feels called to seminary study and ordination to the Holy Orders.

The diocese is blessed with trained and talented educators, including Buchanan who has taught at a seminary in Mexico City and has a passion for vocational training. The Rev. Luke Anker of Christ Church in Kitimat has an incredible appetite for biblical scholarship and shares this with the students. Even Bishop Anderson will take on the role of professor and teach liturgics when time comes for that module.

The nascent initiative is characterized by the flexibility and resourcefulness that defines ministry across Council of the North. Buchanan says that while the modules do have a schedule, all involved attentive to the need to “flow with community life.” He laughs, “There are going to be interminable interruptions, because life has interminable interruptions.”

Even in these early days, Buchanan sees much hope in his midst. He is witness to a deepening commitment among the students who gather at Aiyansh for their modules. They are seriously engaged in the future of the church and want to understand their role in bringing about the flourishing of God’s will in the here and now. “Hey, this is a vocation toward which God is calling us,” Buchanan hears his students say, “and we have to take it seriously.”

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Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, November 21, 2014

A moving spirit

Posted on: November 20th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

By Leigh Anne Williams

(L to R): Paul Latour thanks volunteers Dave Meade and Kent McFadyen. Photo: Jacqueline Rimmer


Compassion can be a powerful force for change. The Anglican Journal takes you to three communities where it is at work for and with youth.

“People said it couldn’t be done, that it was asking too much of these kids who are ages 12 to 18,” says Sheryl Kimbley, describing the program she created, with a cadre of volunteers, that runs annually in Prince Albert, Sask. Northern Spirits gives about 100 aboriginal kids from northern Saskatchewan the opportunity to participate in a fall workshop where they learn about producing a musical showcase. They also compete to be among 30 kids chosen to create an annual show, performed before hundreds in February at the Prince Albert Winter Festival.

“They have not once let me down,” Kimbley says. The kids are in charge of producing the show. “They are the musicians, they are the emcees, [responsible for] every possible thing that has to do with putting on a show, right to knowing how to deal with admissions and customer service,” she adds. Along the way, in the larger workshop and the show, the goal is to build their confidence, self-esteem and dreams for the future.

The event requires a huge investment of time and energy from Kimbley and the other volunteer organizers and mentors. “The preparation is ridiculous, finding the presenters and speakers…I can’t even begin to calculate the hours,” she says. They also invest a lot in the kids themselves. Sometimes it is answering a music question via Facebook or answering a call in the middle of the night and trying to connect kids with people who can give them more help with personal troubles. In 2010, Northern Spirits became a part of Kimbley’s job with the Prince Albert Grand Council, but before that, her hours had all been volunteer, including using holiday time and sick leave from work.

Why does she do it? “Saskatchewan is losing kids due to suicide at an alarming rate. I think if there’s something that we can do that helps even one or two of them, then you can’t stop.”

The program’s many success stories from the program keep Kimbley inspired. She describes one young girl who didn’t find the courage to sing until everyone was saying their farewells at the end of the workshop. “When she sang, she was shaking and trembling, but she had the most beautiful, powerful voice ever … She [later] went on to be a junior chief on her reserve.”

Kimbley grew up in the parish of St. Alban’s Anglican Cathedral in Prince Albert. Her whole family is musical and many of them are involved with Northern Spirits. “Anything that I do is not without the grace of God and the community and [my] family,” she says.

In Victoria, B.C., compassion is also bringing the community together to help provide a safe haven for youth at risk.

The Threshold Housing Society began as a ministry of Christ Church Cathedral, diocese of British Columbia. The society grew until it had to become separately incorporated, but the Rev. Scott McLeod, the bishop’s representative on its board, says it maintains its connection with the diocese. Many Anglicans support Threshold, volunteering for events and helping with the upkeep of the two houses it operates.

Recently, a 90-year-old woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, donated a four-plex property to the society, but the building needed an extensive renovation. Threshold asked activist Paul Latour if he could help.

Compassion has led Latour on an interesting journey of his own. In 2008, he wanted to help a friend with multiple sclerosis fix up her garden, and he organized a mini extreme makeover. He recruited a team of six people, and seven weeks later, they were stunned by the generosity of those they approached: 27 businesses and 75 volunteers helped do a $25,000 garden makeover.

“It was really only meant to be a one-off,” says Latour, but afterward, the volunteers kept thanking him for giving them the opportunity to make a difference. “Something shifted inside and God opened up a door and said, ‘Do you want to walk through?’ ”

He went on to organize other radical renovations of non-profit facilities, such as Victoria’s Mustard Seed food bank. He was still in the process of setting up his organization HeroWork when he agreed to take on the Threshold project. (HeroWork brings people and companies to complete “radical community renovations for worthy non-profits.)

In the lead-up to the renovation, Latour says he was working about 14 hours a day to pull together all the volunteer efforts. “It is, on one hand, the hardest thing I have ever done…and on the other, it’s this beautiful, magical thing.”

In Newfoundland, Claudia Long is working to help build compassion in a new generation. She had no sooner retired from her 31-year career as a schoolteacher than she was back in schools for 27 visits a year as an instructor in the Roots of Empathy program.

Created by another Newfoundlander, Mary Gordon, the program is designed to cultivate empathy by bringing a parent and infant into a classroom of children who are coached by an instructor on how to relate to an infant. It aims to help children understand their own feelings and those of others and to build caring societies. It is now in use in every province in Canada, some U.S. states, New Zealand and the U.K.

Although the organization is a secular one, Long, an Anglican in St. John’s, says its values go hand in hand with her faith.

“The most rewarding part for me is to see the children’s reaction with that infant baby and to see that even the most assertive kids in the classroom still come down to that baby’s level,” says Long. “I just felt it was a wonderful program to give back.” _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Anglican Journal News, October 30, 2014

Mishamikoweesh ‘revolutionary’ for Anglican Church of Canada

Posted on: November 18th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

By André Forget

 

“I feel that the birth of Mishamikoweesh has opened the doors for our fellow indigenous brothers and sisters in Christ,” says Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh. Photo: André Forget


Bishop Lydia Mamakwa and National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald spoke to Council of General Synod (CoGS) Nov. 14 about the long journey toward the establishment of the first indigenous diocese in North America, the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, and of how that journey is continuing in the wake of its creation.

Mamakwa, an Oji-Cree from Kingfisher Lake First Nation, located north of Sioux Lookout, Ont., talked about some of the ways in which the diocese, which was created in June from the northern region of the diocese of Keewatin, is unique. “As a diocesan bishop,” she explained, “I do not have the sole authority to make the decisions. The elders and the people are involved; the chiefs and councils are also involved. When making a community visit, it is my duty to acknowledge the community leadership and listen to their concerns.”

She also mentioned another significant difference: “We can communicate mostly through our own language, written and orally.”

Important steps toward putting indigenous structures into place, Mamakwa noted, were taken at the first Sacred Circle, which will serve the function that a diocesan synod serves in non-indigenous dioceses. In addition to choosing provincial and general synod delegates and electing an executive council (which will serve as a diocesan council), a council of elders has also been elected, which Mamakwa said would “play a big part in Mishamikoweesh.”

Mamakwa also spoke of some of the challenges Mishamikoweesh faces. The diocese includes many remote communities, and travel is not easy. “We have no highways, we have no roads, we only get a winter ice road during maybe two or three months out of the whole year,” Mamakwa said. She went on to note the inefficiency of air travel in terms of both time and money, explaining that getting to a community only 15 minutes away by air is $1,100 one-way, and can take a day or more depending on the freight plane schedules.

However, despite the challenges Mamakwa expressed her gratitude toward those who helped bring Mishamikoweesh into being, and her pride at the change it represents. “Indigenous people have the authority to use their God-given gifts to govern themselves within a church using their traditional ways,” she said. “Yes, we have a lot of issues to deal with from the residential school era and abuses that have been inflicted on our people, but despite the issues that are still there, our people are resilient through it all.”

For Mamakwa, Mishamikoweesh is important for all indigenous Anglicans in Canada. “I feel that the birth of Mishamikoweesh has opened the doors for our fellow indigenous brothers and sisters in Christ, and I pray that doors and opportunities will be opened for them also.”

In his part of the presentation,  MacDonald spoke further about the importance of Mishamikoweesh for indigenous Anglican communities across the country. Praising Mamakwa as a “trailblazer,” he stressed the very different forms of governance employed historically and to the present day by indigenous peoples in what is now known as North America, and the importance of allowing indigenous peoples to return to structures of governance that are built around their understanding of power as shared in communities, rather than organized in a “vertical” fashion.

“We’re beginning to see a different way of imagining how a church can be in an indigenous community,” said MacDonald, “and we now have the freedom in Mishamikoweesh to work things out in a way that makes sense in our cultural environment. I think that this, over time will be revolutionary – not just for us, but probably for the rest of the Anglican Church of Canada.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, responded by expressing what a “great to joy” it was for him to see Mamakwa seated as bishop, and sharing some of his memories from his visit to Kingfisher Lake First Nation to mark the formal creation of Mishamikoweesh.

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Anglican Journal News, November 16, 2014

Archbishop Welby: the Anglican Communion’s challenges and the way forward

Posted on: November 18th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

“The potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about” – Abp Welby        Photo Credit: Church of England __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

In his Presidential address to the General Synod today, Archbishop Justin spoke about the issues faced by the Anglican Communion and possible ways forward.

Read the full text of the address below:

During the last eighteen months or so I have had the opportunity to visit thirty-six other Primates of the Anglican Communion at various points. This has involved a total of 14 trips lasting 96 days in all. I incidentally calculated that it involves more than eleven days actually sitting in aeroplanes. This seemed to be a good moment therefore to speak a little about the state of the Communion and to look honestly at some of the issues that are faced and the possible ways forward.

A Flourishing Communion

First of all, and this needs to be heard very clearly, the Anglican Communion exists and is flourishing in roughly 165 countries. There has been comment over the last year that issues around the Communion should not trouble us in the Church of England because the Communion has for all practical purposes ceased to exist. Not only does it exist, but almost everywhere (there are some exceptions) the links to the See of Canterbury, notwithstanding its Archbishop, are profoundly valued.  The question as to its existence is therefore about what it will look like in the future.   That may be very different, and I will come back to the question.

Secondly, Anglicanism is incredibly diverse. To sit, in the space of a few months, in meetings with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Primate of Australia, the Primate of South Africa, the Moderator of the Church of South India, the Primate of Nigeria and many others is to come away utterly daunted by the differences that exist.  They are huge, beyond capacity to deal with adequately in the time for this presentation.  Within the Communion there are perhaps more than 2,000 languages and perhaps more than 500 distinct cultures and ways of looking at the world.  Some of its churches sit in the middle of what are literally the richest parts of the globe, and have within them some of the richest people on earth.  The vast majority are poor. Despite appearances here, we are a poor church for the poor. Many are in countries where change is at a rate that we cannot even begin to imagine.  I think of the man I met in Papua New Guinea who is a civil engineer and whose grandfather was the first of his tribe to see a wheel as a small aircraft landed in a clearing in the forest.

At the same time there is a profound unity in many ways. Not in all ways, but having said what I have about diversity, which includes diversity on all sorts of matters including sexuality, marriage and its nature, the use of money, the relations between men and women, the environment, war and peace, distribution of wealth and food, and a million other things, underpinning us is a unity imposed by the Spirit of God on those who name Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This diversity is both gift and challenge, to be accepted and embraced, as we seek to witness in truth and love to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, the potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about. We need to hold on to that, there is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. The prize is visible unity in Christ despite functional diversity.  It is a prize that is not only of infinite value, but also requires enormous sacrifice and struggle to achieve.  Yet if we even get near it we can speak with authority to a world where over the last year we have seen more than ever an incapacity to deal with difference, and a desire to oversimplify the complex and diverse nature of human existence for no better reason than we cannot manage difference and dealing with The Other. Yet in Christ we are held together.  In Christ the barriers are broken, peace is held out to us as a gift established, which needs living. In Christ there is hope of a life that provides hope of peace.

Fourthly, the Communion is extremely active. Let me give you a few examples. In Mexico, a small community abandoned by all, of people who had lost their homes and were living in the bad lands, where a priest (otherwise unoccupied apart from a full-time career in a professional area and running another church, as well as being unpaid) was sent by his bishop, to start a church, something he thought might well cost him his life. But there he went, to the poorest of the poor, and a community has been established with numerous baptisms, growing spirituality and a love and concern and compassion for one another that speaks of the living presence of Jesus among them.

Another example, a conference in Oklahoma City, in which from people around The Episcopal Church, with patience and courtesy to one another, there was discussion over the issues around the use of firearms and the meaning of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, in practice in the modern-day USA.

The South Sudan, and after a day spent burying the dead of a great massacre, the Archbishop stood up with extraordinary courage and called for reconciliation.  Those from the rebel group would already have opposed him, those from his own group would not necessarily have been impressed. To do that puts any of our struggles into a real perspective.

In England a church in the middle of an extraordinarily mixed area of religious faith, faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, active in its worship, lively in its preaching, yet being the centre and focus of religious leadership in the area so as to enable difference to be handled well.

There are so many others that merit a presentation of its own.

We live in a community that exists, that is deeply engaged with its world almost everywhere, that is diverse and argumentative and fractured, but yet shows in so many places both known and unknown the power and love of Christ through His Spirit at work in our world. We live in a Communion which merits celebration and thanksgiving as well as prayer and repentance.

A flourishing Communion but also a divided Communion.

I do not want to sound triumphalist. There are enormous problems. We have deep divisions in many areas, not only sexuality. There are areas of corruption, other areas where the power of the surrounding culture seems to overwhelm almost everyone at one point or another.

Our divisions may be too much to manage.

In many parts of the Communion, including here, there is a belief that opponents are either faithless to the tradition, or by contrast that they are cruel, judgemental, inhuman. I have to say that we are in a state so delicate that without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures.

In an age of near instant communication, because the Communion exists, and is full of life, vigour and growth, of faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and love for him, everything that one Province does echoes around the world. Every sermon or speech here is heard within minutes and analysed half to death. Every careless phrase in an interview is seen as a considered policy statement. And what is true of all Provinces is ten times more so for us, and especially us in this Synod. We never speak only to each other, and the weight of that responsibility, if we love each other and the world  as we should, must affect our actions and our words.

A Communion under threat

There is persecution in the Communion, in many, many areas. We are a poor, and a persecuted Church.

We are well aware of that and need to remember it constantly. In very many parts of the world, particularly parts of Africa and the Middle East, but also South East Asia, persecution comes from jihadist attacks which have killed many, many Anglicans, other Christians and in largest number Muslims, over the last few years. Not a day goes by without some report being received of the suffering and persecution of churches around the world, and of cries for help and requests for support. Not a day goes by without something which should break one’s heart at the courage and the difficulties involved.

There is immense suffering in the Communion. The terrible spread of Ebola, indescribable, a Black Death sweeping through three Dioceses of West Africa, is by itself a catastrophe of historic proportions. I was briefed on it two weeks ago in Accra, and the suffering of people in the afflicted countries makes the blood run cold. We must help, pray and call for more help.

In the South Sudan the human created food shortage threatens to turn into a terrible famine. In DRC the war continues with the utmost cruelty, usually including rape.

The list could go on and on, especially in the Middle East, Palestine and Israel, the Levant and the Euphrates valley.

Where do we go?

So what do we do? Where does this extraordinary, fractious, diverse, argumentative, wonderful, united, ferocious, peaceful, persecuted, suffering  body that is the Communion go, and what is the impact on us here in the Church of England?

First, as I have said nothing we say is heard only by us.

Secondly, we should rejoice in being part of this monumental challenge, of this great quest for the prize of being a people who can hold unity in diversity and love in difference.  It is almost unimaginably difficult, and most certainly cannot be done except with a whole-hearted openness to the Holy Spirit at work amongst us. It comes with prayer, and us growing closer to God in Jesus Christ and nothing else is an effective substitute. There are no strategies and no plans beyond prayer and obedience.

Thirdly, the future of the Communion requires sacrifice.  The biggest sacrifice is that we cannot only work with those we like, and hang out with those whose views are also ours.  Groups of like-minded individuals meeting to support and encourage each other may be necessary, indeed often are very necessary, but they are never sufficient.  Sufficiency is in loving those with whom we disagree.  What may be necessary in the way of party politics, is not sufficient in what might be called the polity of the Church.

In this Church of England we must learn to hold in the right order our calling to be one and our calling to advance our own particular position and seek our own particular views to prevail in the Church generally, whether in England or around the world. We must speak the truth in love.

In practice that has to mean the discipline of meeting with those with whom we disagree and listening to each other carefully and lovingly. It means doing that as much as when we meet with those with whom we do agree, whether it is during sessions of General Synod or at other times. It means celebrating our salvation together and praying together to the God who is the sole source of our hope and future, together. It means that even when we feel a group is beyond the pale for its doctrine, or for its language about others or us, we must love. Love one another, love your neighbour, love your enemy. Who in the world is in none of those categories?

All of us prefer being with those whose tradition we know and in which we were brought up. I am as much part of that as anyone else here. But I have gained far more in my own walk with Jesus Christ through being willing to meet with others whose traditions I did not find sympathetic, and be as transparent with them as I am with my closest friends, as from anything else that I have ever done.

And for the future of the Communion? I have not called a Primates’ Meeting on my own authority (although I could) because I feel that it is necessary for the Anglican Communion to develop a collegial model of leadership, as much as it is necessary in the Church of England, and I have therefore waited for the end of the visits to Provinces.

If the majority view of the Primates is that such a meeting would be a good thing, one will be called in response.  The agenda for that meeting will not be set centrally, but from around the Primates of the Communion.  One issue that needs to be decided on, ideally by the Primates’ meeting, is whether and if so when there is another Lambeth Conference.  It is certainly achievable, but the decision is better made together carefully, than in haste to meet an artificial deadline of a year ending in 8. A Lambeth Conference is so expensive and so complex that we have to be sure that it is worthwhile. It will not be imposed, but part of a collective decision.

The key general point to be established is how the Anglican Communion is led, and what its vision is in the 21st century, in a post-colonial world? How do we reflect the fact that the majority of its members are in the Global South, what is the role of the Instruments of Communion, especially the Archbishop of Canterbury, and what does that look like in lived out practice?  These are great decisions, that must be taken to support the ongoing and uninterrupted work of ministering to a world in great need and in great conflict. Whatever the answer, it is likely to be very different from the past.

So, the good news. The Communion exists and is doing wonderful things. The bad news.  There are great divisions and threats. The challenge. There is a prize of being able to develop unity in diversity and also with deeper and deeper ecumenical relations demonstrating the power of Christ to break down barriers and to provide hope for a broken world. We must grasp that challenge, it is the prize of a world seeing Christ loved and obeyed in His church, a world hearing the news of his salvation. So let us here, in the Church of England and above all in its General Synod, be amongst those who take a lead in our sacrificial, truthful and committed love for the sake of Christ for His mission in His world.

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Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), November 17, 2014

The Interview: Ambassador for Christ

Posted on: November 13th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

By Leigh Anne Williams

 

“You need to be able to have a voice that will articulate the voice of the church, particularly on behalf of those who don’t have a voice themselves with people who have power,” says the Rev. Laurette Glasgow, the Anglican Church of Canada’s special advisor for government relations.       Photo: Art Babych


 

This article first appeared in the Nov. issue of the Anglican Journal.

 

Before being appointed in 2012 as the Anglican Church of Canada’s special advisor for government relations, the Rev. Laurette Glasgow spent 37 years working for the federal government. She was a diplomat for 26 of those years, including as ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, and as Canada’s Consul General in Monaco. During her discernment process, she was asked why she was giving up diplomacy to become a priest. “I said, ‘Well, I’m an ambassador for my country, and I’m going to be an ambassador for Christ.’ They’re different, but they draw from some very similar things.” Now, she has had training as a political scientist, as an economist and as a priest. “You blend all those things together and somehow God uses it all,” she said.

The Anglican Journal’s Leigh Anne Williams asked her about the challenges and rewards of her work for the church in Ottawa.

Why does the church need a special advisor for government relations?

You need to be able to have a voice that will articulate the voice of the church, particularly on behalf of those who don’t have a voice themselves with people who have power, people who have influence, people who are shaping policies and laws that are going to affect the lives of Canadians and also of those beyond our border.

Are there some particular issues where you feel you’ve been able to have the most impact?

I don’t tend to think of successes or failures but rather, how is my garden [of networks] growing? Recently, Bishop John [Chapman of the diocese of Ottawa] and I were asked by the Ambassador for Religious Freedom to come in to have a strategic discussion on Iraq, and that, to me, is an example…We have cultivated that part of the garden very carefully and thoroughly. We believe strongly in the objectives of that office. Initially, I don’t think we were on their radar screen, but now we are invited in as partners, so to me, being invited in to have a conversation is an element of success…I felt as if there’s a little blossom coming out here.

One of the things that I am hoping will bear fruit is the extent to which we’ve helped highlight the work and the mission of the Diocese of Jerusalem with Canadian government authorities. We did this when Bishop Suheil [Dawani] was here last October [2013], where I lined up four days’ worth of meetings with government ministers, with think-tanks, with government officials and others, to be able to spread the word of the good work they are doing. Al Ahli Arab Hospital…is being looked at very favourably as one area of health care in Gaza that is free of any influence by Hamas and that can deliver first-rate services but needs to have the financial and human support…to be able to do their work. We have connected the Canadian government locally with the Diocese of Jerusalem and with the work of the hospital in Gaza, so to me, this is also having a tangible outcome to the efforts that we have put in so far.

What are the most challenging aspects of the job?

When something pops up as an issue, there’s no easy go-to-place for the conversation within our church…The decentralization of the Anglican church is one of its beauties, but at the same time, it offers a challenge for us in terms of coherence, and in terms of co-ordination and in terms of being able to communicate our views effectively, so that people out there will say, ‘What is the Anglican view on this?’ and I’d have to say there are different views on this.

Waiting three years for a General Synod is a little bit long. [The Council of General Synod] can serve a certain role. They meet regularly but not [that] frequently, so how do you have that conversation to figure out: well, where is the church on this issue?

…These days, issues come and go; if you don’t have a response in that nanosecond, you are outdated. Church policy, of course, has to be considered and reflective. It has to go through a process of discernment, so some fundamental issues need to go through that, but on other things, we need to have a more rapid response. Part of that is greater anticipation of some of the issues that are out there, which is one of the things I try to do. But [questions remain]…how do we mobilize a more rapid response?…How do we integrate the different views to have a balanced response and one that represents a considered view? So that’s, I think, a big challenge when it comes to speaking to authorities about where we are as a church…

Have you developed a strategic approach to your work?

If you figure that there is not going to be an opportunity for much progress, but you need to speak truth to power, then you may want to have…more [of a] “protest model.” We have to have a tool kit that offers us a lot of different options. And frankly, things like letters to the prime minister…have marginal effect. Increasingly, I [recommend] mobilizing people to just realize that they have a right as individual citizens to speak to a member of Parliament, to a member of the legislative assembly, to speak to their local councillor or mayor…We are totally non-partisan, but…educating people on issues [is important] and providing them with some of the tools that they may need and the confidence to know that when you go and meet with a parliamentarian and you have a specific ask or you have a point of view that you want to get across, there’s a conversation to be had, and a conversation leads you further than a unilateral statement. 

Any other advice for Anglicans trying to influence public policy?

I’ve encouraged them to stop and think, ‘What is the government relations angle on this issue?’ That’s what I’m here for, to be drawn in as somebody with extensive public policy knowledge and experience and an understanding of how the federal government works…Just for them to develop a reflex or an instinct of [thinking], ‘Maybe we should get the advice of [the special advisor].’ They can ignore my advice, but I think trying to have that automatic reflex is one my secret hopes.

What has been one of your most memorable experiences?

As I was leaving the [Ahli Arab] hospital in Gaza, the director Suheila Tarazi gave me a lovely shawl, hand embroidered by the women in Gaza…I was struck with how I was coming with empty hands in many ways, and she said to me, ‘Your hands may be empty, but your heart is full…Beyond any fundraising or anything else, what’s important is for us to know that we are not alone, that we have not been forgotten.’ Any time that I get discouraged—you have a lot of setbacks in this work and a lot of disappointments—I think back to that moment, and I can touch that shawl and remind myself that there is a larger purpose…It’s about relationship and how we have to continue to be in relationship—that is what Jesus asks us to do. So that’s the heart of my ministry. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _Anglican Journal News, November 5, 2014        

The soldier as artist

Posted on: November 10th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Diana Swift

 

Anglican Chaplain Geoffrey Cyril d’Easum’s sketch of a ruined Abbe of Mont St-Eloi near Arras in the north of France in 1919 was part of the special World War I art exhibit at the Canadian War Museum. Photo: Abbey of Mt St Eloi CWM 19990069-001 Beaverbrook Collection of War Art  © Canadian War Museum ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

In a rare moment of calm in an acute environment, some will scribble a poem, some might grab a harmonica and others will pick up any materials at hand and draw. It is the last group that, in the 100th anniversary year of World War I, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa honoured with a special exhibition.

Witness—Canadian Art of the First World War examined how ordinary Canadian soldiers, as well as official war artists, depicted the landscape of armed conflict. Witness ran from April to September, and parts of it will travel, but its artists and their work can also be accessed online in the catalogue of the same name. [Go to http://bit.ly/1oh47l8]

On offer were never-before-displayed works, ranging from massive official canvases painted in London studios to, perhaps most poignant, quick, private drawings sketched in trenches and prisoner-of-war camps. Whatever the medium, each work was chosen to deepen the viewer’s understanding of the personal sacrifices and national impact of this historic conflict in which almost 62,000 Canadians lost their lives.

According to historian Dr. Laura Brandon, curator of the museum’s war art, many enlisted soldiers had art-related peacetime occupations in design, drafting, illustration, photography and architecture. Artists ranged from celebrated Group of Seven painters such as A.Y. Jackson—who became an official war artist—Arthur Lismer and Frederick Varley to rank-and-file soldiers who were millwrights and grocers. The exhibit also included drawings by Canadian architects, including George Lister Thornton Sharp, designer of Vancouver’s Burrard Street Bridge. Most items came from the museum’s Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, one of the largest such collections in the world.

Among the soldier-artists featured in Witness was Captain Geoffrey Cyril d’Easum, an Anglican chaplain in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Enlisting in 1916, he first served with the B.C.-based 131st Battalion under Lt.-Col. James D. Taylor and was eventually sent to the French front with the 8th Battalion, Winnipeg Grenadiers. He later received the British Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.” Born in 1870 in Poona, India, d’Easum died in Victoria in 1954.

In one almost bucolic drawing, the padre-soldier-artist shows Hospital Corner, the medical station at Vimy Ridge. The date is May 1917, a few weeks after the fierce April battle and hard-won victory that some say consolidated Canada’s identity as a nation. In the distance is The Pimple, the northernmost tip of the ridge.

Interestingly, says Brandon, “There’s lot of crossover in the imagery of religious art and war art.” Motifs of sunrise, sunset, nocturnes, sacrifice, crucifixion, blasted trees and ruined buildings occur in both. “Society then was very respectful of death and the impact that knowledge of death could have on wartime civilians,” she says. In addition, the propaganda messages from the front were very tightly controlled by the government and depicting the landscape of war had to be approached carefully. Despite differences of skill and scale between official war art and soldier art, “there was no difference in the visual language they used to describe the war,” she says.

Response to the private drawings of soldiers was very positive. “Families just thrilled to see their great-grandfathers’ art work on display,” says Brandon. “I think people have gained a new respect for a different kind of visual response to the war…the value of the soldier’s sketch as well as the big official painting.”

In Toronto, the Cathedral Church of St. James is marking the centenary with the exhibit Called to Serve: An Exhibit Honouring Canada’s Military Chaplains of All Faiths, a unique look at past and present conflicts through the lens of armed forces clergy. It runs from Nov. 6 to 16, with a special symphony concert honouring The Unknown Soldier on Nov. 14. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Anglican Journal News, November 10, 2014    

Church’s Philippine partners offer inspirational resilience

Posted on: October 24th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Diana Swift

 

Antonio Tejamo prepares corn for planting. PWRDF’s Simon Chambers, who recently visited the Philippines, says he was impressed by the resilience, generosity and good humour of Filipinos in areas devastated by typhoon Haiyan. Photo: Simon

 

Last year, Simon Chambers’s trip to the Philippines was derailed by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which came just three weeks after the Bohol earthquake. But this fall, the communications coordinator of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) spent 12 days in the Cebu region of the Visayas island group documenting the inspirational resilience of the Filipinos as they work together to rebuild.

Chambers was visiting the project sites of several PWRDF partners, which include the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, the Southern Partners Fair Trade Center and the Central Visayas Farmers Development Center. Together, these NGOs address many issues, from food security and income generation to human rights and the arts. [PWRDF is the relief and development arm of the Anglican Church of Canada.]

Chambers was struck by the intelligent integration of a relatively new way of partnering called clustering. “We asked agencies working on small projects to put in grant proposals as one cluster rather than sending us a lot of separate applications from individual agencies,” says Chambers, whose lively blog on his Sept. 21to Oct. 3 Philippines trip can be found on the PWRDF’s website. pwrdf.org/ “I was unsure how this would work on the ground but I came to see how agencies can come together and work efficiently on a lot of projects in reconstruction and relief.”

Chambers was also impressed by the generous spirit of the Filipino people. No sooner had the earthquake response begun than the typhoon struck and the focus of response shifted. “The earthquake victims had lost homes and livelihoods and schools, too, yet they said, ‘Our brothers and sisters need help more,’ ” he says. “They didn’t begrudge the aid going to the typhoon victims. It was so gracious. It felt like a moment of grace.”

According to Chambers, the PWRDF would typically contribute about $40,000 a year to ongoing partnerships in the Philippines, more in times of disaster. “We raised $800,000 for typhoon relief and also sent more than usual to the Bohol earthquake response.”

His journey took him to several different islands (the Philippines has 7,100 islands and 100 indigenous languages). “Often I’d get passed off to a new translator since the one I was working with didn’t know an island’s local dialect,” says Chambers, who admits his knowledge of Tagalog, the national language, is pretty much limited to “thank you.”

Visiting Jinamoc Island, in Samar, he saw first-hand the effectiveness of a holistic model, in which different partners of the ACT Alliance (a global coalition of 140 churches and NGOs) agree to take on different projects, thereby avoiding wasteful duplication. The NCCP, for instance, is building safer houses for fisher families on a hillside about 200 metres inland and is putting up fisherman’s barracks for storage and accommodation near the shore.

Finn Church Aid is rebuilding typhoon-damaged classrooms, while Norwegian Church Aid is tackling water and sanitation. “All kinds of ACT members are coming together to provide the necessities of life in terms of water, hygiene, schooling and employment. They’re even looking at providing fishing boats,” he says. “The partners borrow supplies from each other. The generosity and teamwork are really great to see.”

Did he ever feel an impetus to pick up a hammer or hoe and pitch in? No, he says. “I don’t see the point of spending thousands of dollars to travel thousands of miles to take paying work away from a local person.”

Most impressive of all, Chambers says, are the strength and good humour of the people who saw at least 90 per cent of their homes devastated and 80 per cent of their coconut palms toppled but nevertheless started right away on the long process of reconstruction.

And a very long process it is. “It’s not over in the three months it’s in the papers,” says Chambers. “It takes multiple years to rebuild homes and schools and give psychosocial support and a sense of normalcy to people who are still scared every time it rains.”

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Anglican Journal News, October 23, 2014

Warren Kinghorn: Asking broader questions of medicine

Posted on: October 22nd, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Medicine needs physicians who can call on the Christian tradition to offer another way of thinking about human flourishing, sickness and health, says a physician-theologian.

 

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A knowledge of theology, whether acquired through formal education or life in Christian community, can bring much to the practice of medicine, said Dr. Warren Kinghorn, a theologian and physician at Duke University.

“Medicine — and perhaps other professions as well — needs people who are able to explore deeply the Christian tradition and make it relevant to medical practice,” Kinghorn said. “Someone with formal theological education can call on the Christian tradition to challenge certain assumptions within medicine.”

Warren KinghornKinghorn, an assistant professor of psychiatry and pastoral and moral theology, said those assumptions include the notion that illness, indeed all life, is simply a matter of which technique or technology people need to get the results they want.

“Medicine is much less adept in asking broader questions about what it actually means to flourish or to be healthy,” he said.

With its long history of asking difficult questions about human flourishing, health and illness, Christian theology can give practitioners the ability to challenge those assumptions, Kinghorn said.

Trained in both medicine and theology, Kinghorn has joint appointments at Duke Divinity School and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center. He has a B.S. from Furman University, an M.D. from Harvard, and M.T.S. and Th.D. degrees from Duke.

Kinghorn spoke with Faith & Leadership about medicine and theology and the role that Christianity can play in shaping the practice of medicine. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: During medical school at Harvard, you took a couple of years and came to Duke to complete a master of theological studies degree. Why?

I started medical school in the fall of 1997 with a great deal of enthusiasm for medicine. As someone who grew up in the church, I also had a strong desire to think theologically — but little training in how to do so.

As a first-year medical student, I was mostly learning about how to read medical literature and the kinds of issues that physicians deal with. But I also did some shadowing at an alcohol detox facility in Boston and met people who were struggling with addiction.

I wondered how to make sense of that as a Christian. Is alcoholism a sickness? Even then I understood the medical literature around alcoholism.

Or is it sin? And if sin, then in what way, and what do I mean by sin anyway?

I realized that I didn’t have any categories to make sense of how to think about alcoholism in relationship to the moral agency of a Christian.

I needed to know more. So I went to the Harvard Divinity School library and for the first time in my life read about the fourth-century debate between Augustine and the Pelagians. I realized that there was this deep, rich conversation around the nature of sin and the degree to which humans are bound or not by sin.

Although I didn’t understand how to make sense of the question of alcoholism, I realized that the Christian tradition has this 2000-year history of asking difficult questions about human agency, flourishing and illness, about how humans die and how humans live. I wanted to know more.

Q: So this ancient conversation you stumbled upon had relevance for modern medicine?

Absolutely. The questions that Augustine and the Pelagians argued about are absolutely relevant to questions around the disease concept of alcoholism. Are humans bound in sin? Can we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps? To what extent can we be caught in structures that limit our agency?

Later, I read about the disease concept of alcoholism and learned that alcoholism has a particular social history in the United States. It went from being seen predominantly as a moral, spiritual, religious and, sometimes, criminal issue to being seen in the 20th century as a medical issue.

Yet it’s complicated. Alcoholics Anonymous itself has a religious logic. These concepts of sickness and sin are still with us and still affect the way that culture relates to people with addictions, and how physicians relate to people with addictions or with mental or physical illness. I wanted to learn more about how Christians had thought about these questions as a way to then do so as a practicing physician.

Q: After you completed your M.T.S., you finished med school, returned to Duke to do a residency in psychiatry and then decided to get a Th.D. Why? What made you want to come back and do a Th.D.?

When I did the M.T.S., I didn’t plan to do a doctorate in theology. I wanted to be a practicing physician who was theologically trained.

But several faculty encouraged me to think about how my vocation could be of service to the church. I realized that I wanted to be involved in scholarship and teaching at a university level, and in pastoral formation, teaching in a divinity school. So to do that kind of work, I decided to get a Th.D.

Q: What does a theological education bring to the practice of medicine? In what ways can it help prepare a physician?

Every Christian physician needs to have a theological view or context in which they practice their vocation — though not all physicians need to have formal theological education or training.

But with that said, medicine — and perhaps other professions as well — needs people who are able to explore deeply the Christian tradition and make it relevant to medical practice. Someone with formal theological education can call on the Christian tradition to challenge certain assumptions within medicine.

Physicians who are able to engage the Christian tradition can also help medicine recover some of the moral sources that have sustained the care of the sick and dying for centuries. For example, the charity hospital evolved in the Mediterranean in the context of Christian monastic institutions in the fourth century.

Christians have long sustained those forms of care, and that’s what’s sometimes in danger of being lost in our modern, business-oriented practice of medicine.

Q: So theological training can help a physician to see and to name the assumptions that otherwise go unseen in medicine?

Yes. Training in medicine is a distinct process of moral formation and formation of the imagination. Like any process of disciplined training, it both creates new possibilities for imagination and constrains the imagination.

The medical model in general — the way that we interpret pain and suffering through the language of pathology, prognosis, epidemiology, treatment and cure — absolutely dominates modern biomedicine and leads to this heavily instrumentalized understanding of human suffering. It is very hard to even imagine medicine otherwise unless one has a different kind of sustaining community that makes that possible.

You don’t have to have formal theological education, but you do need some alternative community that provides a sense that the logic of biomedicine is not the only way to think about human flourishing and sickness.

Q: You just touched on this some, but what are the challenges in integrating a Christian calling in the world of medicine?

Biomedicine in America is rooted in certain givens that are largely unquestioned. One has to do with how physicians think. Medicine encourages clinicians and patients to think in very instrumentalist ways — “I have something that’s wrong with me, and I need the right technology, the right technique to cure it.”

It encourages people to see all of life as a question of what technique do I need to get where I want to go. Medicine is much less adept in asking broader questions about what it actually means to flourish or to be healthy.

I was in my third year of psychiatric residency before anyone in an academic setting ever asked, “What is health?” It’s ironic. We’re in this world of health care, and yet the question “What is health?” is rarely asked in any robust way.

That’s partly because if you begin to ask normative questions about what it means to be healthy, then you get into questions of value. You press up against religious and theological conceptions about what it means to live a flourishing human life. And medicine, which sees itself as a neutral institution that doesn’t take sides on these value questions, tends to back off.

That allows individual patients or physicians to set for themselves their own particular ends, and the only focus is on the instrumental questions, the questions of which technique or technology to use.

But that’s unsustainable, because it means that particular conceptions of health can be inserted by anyone who wants to. So advertising, the pharmaceutical industry, various commercial interests that have a stake in the medical system begin to shape what we understand as health and flourishing.

Theology gives us the ability to call that into question.

Another challenge is the way medicine deals with questions of religious faith by bracketing them into the worlds of “spirituality” or “personal commitments” that aren’t allowed to inform the way that medicine is practiced. That is very hard to get outside of if one is in medicine.

How do you think about a theological view of medicine that doesn’t become marginalized through the language of spirituality, that makes a difference for the way that medicine is practiced?

For me, the question of Christian vocation is not tied up in my spirituality. It’s tied up in how I understand excellence in medical care. How do I be an excellent physician? What is excellence?

Christian vocation allows me to see myself as an integrated whole, practicing medicine in a way that seeks the good for my patients and that embodies this sustainable practice for the culture as well.

Q: What are the places, the issues, in health care and medicine that would benefit from this kind of Christian formation?

We have an immensely expensive health care system. No one has any clear idea how to decrease costs or how to set boundaries, in part because we don’t know how to ask questions about the role medicine should play in a good, flourishing life. We don’t have the ability to stand back from medicine and ask those kinds of questions.

Also, within medicine itself, there’s widespread discontent, which I think reflects a moral or even spiritual discontent. A recent survey found that 45 percent of physicians show signs of burnout and 37 percent have symptoms of major depression.

There’s certainly increased dissatisfaction with parts of managed care, with litigation, with increased demands of time efficiency. There’s also a cultural shift, where medicine is increasingly no longer seen as a calling but as a job.

All this dissatisfaction has a number of causes. The Christian tradition would say this is at least partly a problem with theological dimensions. Christians engaged in health care need to remember that the sick need care because Christ is in the sick. The sick person, the dying and the mentally ill are where Christ is. That doesn’t provide all the answers, but it provides a way to go on.

Often, Christian physicians, like other medical practitioners, are so focused on finding the right techniques or technologies to control the body that we forget to ask basic questions about what the body is for and what human life is for, what a well-lived life looks like. Those are the kinds of questions that can be transformative for physicians and for relationships between physicians and patients.

The Christian tradition also has the ability to sustain care of those who aren’t wealthy or pleasant, because Christians recognize that we also stand in need of grace. The person in the emergency room at 2 a.m. who is cursing and malodorous and spitting on clinicians is not ontologically different from us. We have been given grace, and we still need grace.

Christ is in that person, too. So when we care for that person in the ER at 2 a.m., we are caring for Christ. The Christian tradition can illumine all of that in ways that can help sustain medicine as a moral and spiritual practice.

The Christian tradition also is very clear that physicians are not in medicine alone but, like all Christians, are part of a larger body, the church, which has as its mission the reconciliation of the world to God. And so the question is how to help congregations to own that and to support physicians and to sustain medicine as a practice.

Q: How did you work through the process of vocational calling and decide on medicine?

I don’t know that I had a clear sense of call when I entered medical school. For me, it’s been a process where I walk into new opportunities, experience what it’s like to inhabit the role and the practice of medicine, and then see opportunities for beauty within that and pursue them.

I’ve changed course several times. When I came to the Divinity School, I thought I was going to be a primary care physician, and when I left I was interested in psychiatry, because of the kinds of human questions that psychiatrists engage in daily.

Q: Did each of these experiences feed the other? Med school fed divinity, which fed medicine, which fed divinity?

Absolutely. My training as a theologian has always been in the context of my vocation as a physician. And my training as a physician has always been informed by my theological training in ways that are hard to separate out. It’s one integrated whole.

It doesn’t mean that my medical practice is always about theology. But it does mean that my Christian commitment always informs, and motivates, the way that I understand what it means to practice psychiatry well.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, October 15, 2014

Serene Jones: I did not anticipate how fast change would come

Posted on: October 21st, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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The president of Union Theological Seminary reflects on her six years in office and the rapid pace of change both in her institution and in the church as a whole.

Photo courtesy of Union Theological Seminary

 

In 2008, Serene Jones became the first female president of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, one of the nation’s leading centers of liberal Christianity. A scholar in the fields of theology, religion and gender studies, Jones is the author of books on feminist theology and Calvin, among other topics. She took over the helm of the institution as it worked to secure its financial footing amid the meltdown of 2008.

During her tenure, the seminary has continued to take a leading role in the issues of the day. In June, the board of trustees voted unanimously to begin divesting fossil fuels from the school’s entire $108.4 million endowment. Since August, Union students and faculty, including scholar Cornel West, have been active in protesting police actions in Ferguson, Missouri.

Jones was at Duke to give the Jill Raitt Lecture sponsored by the Duke Divinity School Women’s Center and spoke with Faith & Leadership about what she has learned as the leader of Union. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: When you took over at Union, you wrote a vision statement. How do you assess where you are now in terms of your original vision?

It has been interesting, in the years that I’ve been there, to see the evolution of Union and of my understanding of what leadership is. Let me first talk about Union. When I wrote my presidential vision statement, I was too new to have a vision statement of Union really grounded in deep knowledge of the school. I built it on the call for Union to engage these huge demographic shifts that are taking place in the church. So I outlined some ways the school might begin to respond, which means rethinking theological education in a deep way.

What I did not anticipate was how fast that change would come. These are not demographic shifts that we have time to gracefully and slowly and thoughtfully consider. These changes are on us now, and the shifts that they require are coming organically from the very questions that our students raise. Four years ago in our entering class at Union, the largest single denomination — if it was a denomination — was the “spiritual but not religious.”

We have lots of these millennial students who have not grown up in any faith tradition but are coming to seminary, for the most part, because they’re engaged in social change. They want social justice, and they’re tying that to questions about the meaning of life and spiritual questions. There’s a yearning there. Similarly, I did not anticipate the degree to which we would begin to see the racial demographics at Union shift. Union’s always had a large number of African-American students, in part because of our faculty and our location in Harlem, but in the last five years we’ve seen that grow even more. In our degree programs, it’s almost 47 percent students of color, the predominant number African-American. So we have a school that’s very racially diverse.

Across the street from Union is Jewish Theological Seminary, so the Christian/Jewish [interfaith] part has always been in our bones, but in 2010, through the support of the Luce Foundation, we hired a professor of Islamic ministry who’s a Muslim woman, and we have more and more students who come with interests in Buddhism. We have a new faculty member who teaches Christianity and Hinduism. Two years ago, we created a new field at Union. We created an interreligious engagement field, and it’s now the biggest field with the most number of students in our master of arts program. Most of those students are Christian and planning on Christian vocations, but the interest in interfaith studies is just phenomenal.

Q: What are the challenges of a Christian seminary in having students who identify as spiritual but not religious?

It is funny that they’re coming to seminary — but great — and it makes a certain amount of sense. I think the demographics show that many of these spiritual-but-not-religious millennials come from families who are part of the demographic shift away from mainline Protestantism. So they have some kind of deep connection to those traditions, even though they haven’t experienced it institutionally. But think about it: you’re graduating from NYU, and you thought you might want to go into business, but you ended up taking a course in philosophy, and then you took another one in religious studies, and your English class, in which you did a reread of American history, sparked your interest, and you get involved in Occupy Wall Street — it’s just happening six blocks away — and you get more and more excited about the changes that are happening. You’re getting ready to graduate, and you want to know, “Where can I go and think about these deep questions?”

Our seminaries are the place in our country that historically we have done that. So in a sense, these students are reminding us of who we are and who we can be again. It’s very interesting. Students get to Union and by their second year have discovered that the church is actually an interesting place, and it’s actually a place where they can do the kind of social engagement that they dream of. There’s a network of people there, and there are deep faith commitments driving that goodness. It’s an essential part of what happens.

Many of them end up in churches, to their great surprise.

Q: So your observation is that people circle back to Christian institutions they had rejected. What value do those institutions have in this rapidly changing world?

One of the biggest challenges of being the president of Union is I’m the president of a school where 90 percent of the students hate institutions, and I’m the head of the institution. I am “the man.” I share a sense, along with the faculty, that part of teaching them how to be leaders — when you learn to be leaders, you learn what it means to be responsible for communities.

Which means being responsible for institutions. So part of the process is recognizing that being anti-institutional is in large part being naive about what communities need to thrive — indeed, what a community is. Many of these “spiritual but not religious,” because they have been so isolated, don’t have a communal sense of the change that they seek. I also think it helps to give them models, in the administration and in the faculty, of institutional leadership that they respect. And that’s no small thing.

Q: To be a good institutional leader yourself.

Yes, yes. The institutional leadership does not have to fall in 10 steps behind where the people are going. In fact, it can walk abreast with them.

Q: Is some of that tension inherent in Union itself, as the flagship progressive, liberal seminary?

With that much diversity at Union, it’s understandable that the tensions that that can produce could be, you know — the centrifugal forces could pull it apart. But it’s not. It’s a miracle; it’s not. In being the flagship progressive school, it has in its own history deep wounds of divides between faculty members, between causes, between varying levels of “political correctness.” In that environment, you learn to cut your teeth on what you oppose, and you spend far less time figuring out what it is you love, what it is you want to bring about in the world and what you seek.

In the near past, we’ve been focusing a lot of the curriculum, as well as mentoring the student body leadership and working with the faculty, around love and around what it means to have real diversity that’s not divisive and judgmental. You’re starting to see that happen, and it’s quite exciting. The student body this year chose “Love in Action” as their theme. Learning to love deeply, not just to critique passionately, is the challenge for an institution like Union.

Q: What has been your biggest surprise in that leadership role? Positive or negative.

Until I became a president and hence a leader, as a faculty member I never had the experience of building a team of people that you work with closely. That leadership happens because of that really deep partnership. As an academic, you sit alone in your office and write your book. You sit alone in your office and do your course prep. You meet with students one-on-one, and you don’t have to think about the challenge of moving whole communities of people forward in practical ways. So I love working with a team. How do I say this? Becoming a president has made me much less interested in my own leadership and more interested in a team. It’s fascinating. I didn’t anticipate that.

Q: You’ve been a single mother during this period. How do you manage work/life balance?

I don’t know. I never figured it out. I never figured it out. It’s just hard. Now that [my daughter] has gone to college, for first time in 18 years I’m experiencing having time to myself. I didn’t even know I didn’t have it until I finally got it.

For the last 18 years, I worked and I was a mother, and that’s about all I had time for. I know men struggle with it, too, but women in particular get vexed by the idea that somehow if they could just do it right it would be easier, and there’s no way to make it easier. We have to hope that our institutions change more and more so that parenting is truly a shared endeavor.

Q: Do you think it’s important that your students go on to practice in the church institution?

That’s a complicated question, because Union has been committed since its beginning — and still — to preparing leaders for the church. And by that I mean pulpit ministers, preachers, pastors. That’s still the vast majority of our students. About 60 percent go into parish ministry. It’s only very recently in Christian history that we’ve decided that a seminary education was something that you should get a [professional] degree for doing, and that it’s a profession primarily for the management and leadership of churches.

When Union was founded, to get a seminary education was to get a very good liberal arts education, to learn theology and Bible so that, first and foremost, you could be a responsible citizen and a good Christian. There’s a long history in the United States of people getting seminary education so they can be leaders in the civic sphere. I come from a Calvinist tradition, and Calvin has a profound sense of the multiple ways in which Christians can witness, and so to limit or to even make sacrosanct the work of a seminary with respect to pulpits, I think, is to limit the power of that education. It’s also the case that people now go into the ministry and then cycle in and out of the ministry.

I like to think that at Union they’re getting prepared in ways that allow them to go in and out of ministry and do different things in their life, but to see those things as ministry. I mean, given the shrinking size of the church, if you don’t prepare them to do multiple things, they could drift away, and we might also lose even our own reverends and M.Divs.

Q: Has administrative leadership influenced your theology?

Yes, it’s changed my theology. I have a much deeper respect myself for the way that the Christian message is embodied, not just in individual lives and not just in groups of people’s lives, but in institutions, the actual bodies of institutions and how they run themselves. And that that’s a theological endeavor is so clear to me — that to run a seminary is to run a school that tries to, in its infrastructure, embody its values.

We’re not just any kind of higher education.We’re Christian higher education. If we can’t show the students what it means to be faithful and good stewards of the institution, if we can’t show them that while they’re there, we can’t expect them to go out and be good caretakers of the institutions they find themselves in.

Q: Are you thinking along the lines of Union’s recent vote to divest itself of fossil fuels? Or are you thinking about something more day-to-day?

I’m thinking about both kinds. So when we decided to divest our endowment from fossil fuels, that was a board decision. It was a unanimous decision. It wasn’t even a difficult decision. So there’s that kind of work. But also if students in seminary don’t experience an administration and a faculty that take them very seriously as co-workers and co-learners, they are not going to go out into their parishes and treat their congregation members as if they’re in shared ministry together.

I work very hard at Union to develop an administrative team and a faculty that doesn’t just see our students as kids that need an education but as people learning about the shared ministry of the church and the world. So I think it matters at that level, too. It’s the attitude you have toward the community of people you’re leading.

Q: The Christian Century noted recently three major pulpits getting female pastors — Riverside, Fourth Presbyterian and Foundry — and I wondered whether you saw that as a hopeful trend?

I think it’s very hopeful. Many of the most effective women church leaders that I know, like Amy Butler [at Riverside], and like Ginger Gaines-Cirelli [at Foundry] — I do not know the person at Fourth Presbyterian, but I know the first two very well — they have a very collaborative leadership style like what I was just describing, in terms of institutions being spaces of collaboration.

Q: And do you think that makes a difference?

Yes. The decline in the numbers of people going to church in this country in mainline Protestant communities is in part a symptom of the ways in which capitalism has gutted our value systems so that people no longer even imagine the need for communities of moral formation and faith. But it’s also partly due to how destructively focused our churches got on doctrine and correctness and shoring up their identities at a very time in which a more radical openness to the world was needed.

I think that the churches can be faulted for that. The way that denominations and churches responded to change was defensively: “We just need to teach them how to be good Methodists. We just need to teach them how to be good Baptists and UCCs.” That’s not going to make the churches stronger. We will be known by our openness. We’ll be known by our love.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership Newsletter, October 21, 2014

Joseph Bathanti: Writing as a sacred office

Posted on: October 21st, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Growing up an Italian Catholic in Pittsburgh had a lasting impact on the recently named poet laureate of North Carolina.

 

Joseph BathantiJoseph Bathanti’s poems reflect his life. Raised in a close-knit, blue-collar community of Catholic immigrants in Pittsburgh, he attended parochial school and lived near his parents and other relatives until he was 23.

In the 1970s, he first ventured out of Pennsylvania to work as a VISTA volunteer with prison inmates in North Carolina. He met his wife-to-be on his first day of training and has since continued to live and work in North Carolina.

Bathanti, 59, was installed in September as North Carolina’s seventh poet laureate. He is a professor of creative writing at Appalachian State University.

His poetry has been published in the Christian Century, among other magazines, and his books of poetry include “This Metal,” “Land of Amnesia,” “Anson County” and “The Feast of All Saints.” He has published two novels, “Coventry” in 2006 and “East Liberty” in 2001, along with a book of short stories.

He spoke with Faith & Leadership recently about the influence of his upbringing and his religious life on his writing. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Tell us about your faith growing up and how it influences your work.

I grew up in a little Italian enclave, one of the last in Pittsburgh. All my grandparents were from Europe; three were from Italy, one from France. Everybody in the neighborhood had similar equations. Some of my friends’ parents didn’t even speak English. We were very much dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholics.

I was an altar boy, a choirboy. I went to Latin Mass every morning during the school week, and I went to church. The sound of the liturgy infiltrated me at a very early age. I loved all the pomp, the smell of incense, the statuary and the stained-glass windows.

I liked Jesus very much. I liked Catholicism well enough. I guess my big quibble is I didn’t like the nuns, the vicious women who taught me early in my life.

Growing up, I thought everybody was Catholic. I had really lovely parents and amazing friends and extended family. And I had the nicest dad in the wide world.

But I got in trouble a lot in school. It wasn’t bad stuff — never a fight. Yet I was physically abused with boards and sticks and all sorts of things. It was the traumatizing influence in my childhood. I guess I should thank the good sisters, because they certainly have given me a lot to write about.

After that, I attended Pittsburgh Central Catholic, a private high school for working-class boys. My mother called it a private school for Catholic hoodlums, which always amused me. I was taught by Christian Brothers. I loved the brothers, and I will always love Central. It was very liberal. It was life-changing.

I go back every year and spend a week as writer-in-residence there. So my quibble has never been with Catholicism. It was just with the nuns.

I’m in Protestant churches now more than anything; I belong to one, as a matter of fact. The Spirit is still very much alive in there.

But I miss the beauty of those old Catholic churches. There were things for my eyes to light upon. I smelled things. I heard things. I was surrounded by incredible imagery. I miss that kind of Wizard of Oz, Cecil B. DeMille giant production.

Q: Do you still consider yourself a Christian?

Oh, yes. At the risk of co-opting some fundamentalist language, I do have my own personal relationship with Jesus, albeit very idiosyncratic.

I am what we would call a lapsed Catholic, I suppose. Technically, I’m even excommunicated, because 35 years ago I married a by-God Southern Baptist from Tucker, Ga., and was married at Indian Creek Baptist Church. So I’m a fallen-away Catholic, if you will. I still consider myself a Catholic.

My wife, Joan, and I belonged to Grace Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C. When we moved up to Boone, N.C., we became charter members of High Country United Church of Christ, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Q: You have talked before about being steeped in stories in the church. What did that mean for your work?

Little Catholic children who go to Catholic schools know the Bible. I loved all those wild science fiction, fantasy, magical realism stories that occurred in the Old Testament.

A rod would turn into a snake and rivers would turn to blood, seas would part and bushes would burn and talk, and there was levitation. All sorts of nifty things. That stuff really fueled my imagination.

We were taught about the saints. One of my favorite books still is Alban Butler’s “Lives of the Saints,” a compendium of saints’ biographies. We heard wild stories of torture and dismemberment and gladiators. They were adventure stories, and those were some of the first really far-out, crazy and inexplicable stories that I heard.

The Bible is filled with stories with no kind of literal explanation for what goes on. So we take it on faith. And in a lot of ways, when we enter into a relationship with a text — a poem, a piece of fiction, a play — we also take it on faith. We feel like maybe we are in the hands of somebody who knows a little more than us.

Books can convert us in a lot of ways. We all have those kinds of texts in our life that are life-changing, which for me often means a kind of spiritual experience, too.

Q: In your transformation from Northern kid to Southern writer, did you think a lot about community and sense of place?

Although I was a citizen of Pittsburgh, I was more a citizen of my neighborhood or the schoolyard. My parents were working folks. We didn’t go on vacation. We never left the city.

I like to say one minute I was in my mother’s kitchen; the next I was on a prison yard in North Carolina. And the contrast seems that abrupt to me.

I realized after moving here that in North Carolina you are a citizen of the state, rather than simply a city or a neighborhood. I’ve traveled to all 100 counties in North Carolina. I have friends all across the state. I don’t even need a map. I can just take off anywhere. So there’s this wonderful sense of a bigger, broader community.

I guess another thing that kind of authenticated me — this Yankee Pittsburgh Italian boy — is that I met my wife in the very first moment of VISTA training. We’ve been inseparable since. I’ve had this wonderful tour guide with me all the time. Tied to a Southerner, I didn’t feel quite so much like the invader.

So while I’ve been able to hang on to my own culture, I’ve been able to embrace another really wonderful culture. I love North Carolina very much, and I love the South.

Q: Do you think that your working-class background has affected your practices as a writer and creative person?

I do; it provided me with a work-ethic backbone. I believe you have to work hard.

Writers actually generate writing by sitting down and putting words on a page. It takes the young writer a long time to realize that you don’t sit around and wait for inspiration. So the idea of just getting to work was ingrained in me.

And then there’s the subject matter. I recently published an essay in The Sun Magazine called “Real Work,” where I talk about the real work that my forebears did, all of whom were bricklayers and steelworkers and cement finishers and seamstresses. They worked with their bodies.

I write mainly about people who are kind of invisible. Those people are quietly toiling in their communities, whether they’re in North Carolina or in Pittsburgh.

Q: So you consider working people both a subject and a model?

I honor those people. I’m 59 years old and I’m in very good physical shape. But if I had to be working on a roof every day or doing some of the other things that men and women still have to do that’s physically demanding, it would be different than being intellectually zapped at the end of the day.

My 12 hours isn’t like my dad’s 12 hours — I don’t care what people say. Get out there and dig ditches and see what it’s like.

I feel the distance between that kind of labor and how kids now are growing up. I teach a lot of kids who are the children of educated parents, who are sometimes the children of educated grandparents. And so I think we lose that very real connection to sweat and dirt and hardship. It’s important to respect that, even if you never do it.

Q: You have referred to the habit of writing as a habit of being. What did you mean by that?

I steal that from Flannery O’Connor. She said “the habit of art” is having a work ethic that doesn’t wait for inspiration. You get to your table every day, whether something good is happening or not. She worked every morning for three hours.

“The Habit of Being” was also the title of her posthumous letters, which had to do with her spiritual life. So I see the two as very much equated. It is a sacred office to sit down and write, in the Benedictine sense of trying to seamlessly mesh life and work and art so that it is all one contiguous, contemplative exercise.

I fail at this all the time, but it’s what I’m striving for.

Listening to myself talk, I sound to myself pretentious and a lot more ordered spiritually than I feel internally. But that’s what we do in writing anyhow. We make sense out of things on the page that had no sense when they were occurring.

As Samuel Beckett said, “Words are all we have.” So thank God for them.

Q: Your background indicates an almost vocational obligation to serve specific communities, such as prison inmates. Is that accurate?

There is an obligation that emanates from spirituality.

I’ve been so blessed. People have been so nice to me. I never felt poor at all. But my father was a steelworker. My mother was a seamstress. My dad was on strike once for an entire year. There wasn’t a lot of money to do anything. So I want to champion those people.

It’s a kind of survivor’s guilt. You see a prison inmate and you think, “He’s there and I’m here.” I go all over the place talking about prisons, and it always comes down to poverty and lack of education.

I had a mom and dad, and I had dinner every night. I had clean clothes, and people checked my homework. What if that hadn’t happened?

Also, as a VISTA volunteer, I found out about the community of mercy: social workers and psychologists and battered-women shelters and all those people doing things for people who can’t do for themselves.

My wife was a social worker for indigent prenatal patients, and we were houseparents for abused and neglected children for a year. Once I was aware of that community, they began to occupy some acreage in my conscience, and I want to serve them in some way.

We don’t say enough things like, “Oh boy, thank God that’s not me.” Instead, we say, “Of course it’s not me, because I’m so great and they’re so not-great.”

Q: You also are working on a project with combat veterans.

A young man walked into my office one day, one of my colleagues’ sons who had been a corpsman in Iraq. He asked me if I would work on an independent study with him writing about his experiences. I told him that I would, and as I began to contemplate doing it, I thought, “Why don’t I generalize this opportunity to any veteran on campus who wants to avail him- or herself of this?” But then this fellow disappeared, and those intentions went nowhere.

But I had it lodged in the back of my head, stored. When it came down to being a finalist for the poet laureate, we were all asked, “What would your signature project be?” So I just said this was what I was going to do.

There are a number of initiatives where people are doing things like this all across the state, independently. But as poet laureate, I can serve as a kind of lightning rod for all the initiatives, and maybe get some of these people talking, sharing resources and ideas.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, October 21, 2014