Evangelical pastor for full inclusion

Ken Wilson's new book, "A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor's Path to Embracing People who are Gay, Lesbian and Transgender into the Company of Jesus" is discussed in an interview with Religion Dispatches' Candace Chellew-Hodge.

From the interview:

Q: So, how are you living out your new idea of accepting LGBT people into your own congregation, based on your study of Romans 14 and 15 that calls for acceptance of everyone even when there are deep disagreements?

Right when I was ready to "cross the Rubicon," so to speak, on this issue with my congregation, I received an email from a lesbian woman who told us she and her partner were having their first child and they had not found a church they wanted to attend. They wanted to know if they would be accepted. They didn't ask if they'd be welcomed, they asked if they would be accepted. In Romans 14, the word is "acceptance," so this was our test case.

Our answer has to be yes or no—you can't partially accept a person.

The gay and lesbian people who come to our church require courage, especially if they go to churches in the evangelical orbit. What they find here are people with differing views on this but those who come have found a home and a sense of belonging. However, I have to be extra alert as the pastor to make sure it is a safe place for them.

I try to be honest with the gay and lesbian people who come that it's not a resolved issue within our church, but gay and lesbian people are used to that. But the gay and lesbian people who come are the most amazing people. The amount of love they have for Jesus to go through that process of reconciling their spirituality and sexuality is incredible. As a pastor, you're not used to that.

The straight people who come believe the church has won the sweepstakes when they join because they can go down to any other church, so they're looking for a church to deliver their niche needs. For gay and lesbian people, all they want is to belong and if you're willing to accept them it's like the original Gentiles coming to faith.

There's so much God-activity in all of this and pastors who aren't welcoming these people are missing out.

Deep Peace of the Running Wave: Earth Day 2014

An Earth Day meditation: Deep Peace of the Running Wave

h/t to Diana Butler Bass

What if your church never gets another member?

What might happen if your church never gets another member. Thoughts from Derek Penwell at D-mergent. When your dreams cannot be fulfilled as a church or personally what can you do?

What if you stopped making plans for a future membership explosion? (I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. I’m just saying, “Imagine.” Play along for a moment.)

What if your congregation never got another member? What if you could no longer afford to wait for somebody to join and finally make of you what you’re convinced you ought to be? How would that change what you do, and how you understand what is required of you, given what you already have?

If you put aside the idea that there’s someone (or a whole bunch of someones out there) who are going to come and save your congregation from extinction, what might that do to the way you do ministry?

Read the 5 ideas here. Plus a Bonus:
You start living like this … and you might find that all those people who’ve avoided you all those years just might start showing up to see who the lunatics are that are running this wild outpost of faithfulness.

And along those lines When Disruption Comes to Church

But, as Clay Christensen would ask, can mainline churches adopt these disruptive forms within their own structures? A provocative experiment currently underway in Great Britain is the Fresh Expressions movement. Initiated by the Church of England and endorsed by the British Methodist Church, Fresh Expressions encourages and supports “new ways of being church” and of practicing Christianity in non-church contexts such as surfing clubs, pubs, parenting groups and soccer leagues. Often, these “fresh expressions” are created by clergy alongside existing parish structures in what is termed a “mixed economy” of church.

Or maybe just give your building away. See A Church Reborn

UTO contributions increase $80,477.51

Good news from the Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs:

Donations to the United Thank Offering jumped over $80,000 while grant applications increased.

According to information from the United Thank Offering Board:

• The 2013 ingathering amount is $1,525,407.78, an increase of $80,477.51 from 2012.Unknown-1.jpeg

• Similar to the previous year, all but five dioceses of The Episcopal Church contributed to the 2013 ingathering prior to the December 31 deadline. In addition, a contribution was received from the Anglican Diocese of Uruguay. (Information on specific dioceses or provincial ingathering amounts is available from provincial representative to the United Thank Offering Board.)

• As of the February 28 deadline, 86 grant applications have been received: 60 from Episcopal Church dioceses for projects or programs within their diocese; 16 “companion applications” from an Episcopal Church bishop on behalf of a diocese outside of The Episcopal Church; 10 from members of the Anglican Communion. The focus for the 2014-2015 United Thank Offering grants is The Gospel of Love proclaimed by Jesus Christ.

• Currently, the United Thank Offering Board is reviewing grants in preparation for the May meeting in Saint Louis, MO. At that time, the Board will approve awards for forwarding to the Executive Council for approval at the June meeting in Phoenix, AZ.

• All applicants will be notified by the United Thank Offering Board of their status after June 15 with all grant awards being paid by June 30.

For more information on the United Thank Offering or how parishes can participate, contact the Rev. Heather Melton, United Thank Offering coordinator, or visit UTO online.

Heaven is Real: movie review

A very popular movie (earned $21.5 million in its first weekend) this past weekend was Heaven Is Real. Did you see it? What are your thoughts. Here are a few from Mary Valle at Religion Dispatches:

Too much is blue in this movie: the sky, the clothes, the stucco wall
that Todd stands in front of at the Crossroads Wesleyan Church—and Colton’s big blue eyes. Heaven is, of course, blue. This is what they mean by ‘All-American,’ I think, looking at Colton, who is the very picture of aww-inducing little boy-hood: a blue-eyed, Protestant who lives somewhere that is, for the most part, landlocked.What about the rest of us?, I wonder. But even being “All-American” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anymore (if it ever was.) Such is the discontent of Pastor Burpo.

When Colton begins to burble about things he saw in heaven while on the operating table, Todd gets rather agitated. Everyone else seems to not care or shrugs off Colton's fancies as being a product of the potent combination of a 4-year-old’s sense of unreality combined with a 4-year-old’s ability to hear things adults think he doesn’t. Todd gets weirder and weirder as his obsession with Colton’s visions increases; it’s like some kind of Protestant Vertigo in Nebraska around the edges.
Jokes aside, Heaven is for Real made me uneasy—although Pastor Burpo in real life spun the straw of Colton’s scanty “visions” into a fair amount of gold, what about the rest of the “hard working Americans” in Imperial, Nebraska? What about us all? We just have cool it down here, work really hard for little to no reward, and wait for an icky greeting-card-bland heaven? Not being a Protestant, perhaps I don’t understand the allure of this movie, but “inspiring” isn’t the adjective that springs to mind. That would be “soul-crushing.”

Read the whole review here

Debriefing Easter

Now that the annual liturgical endurance trial known as Holy Week and Easter is behind us, those of us who work in the church professionally have turned our attention to nice, long naps.

But a blogger over at A Church for Starving Artists asks how we, who spend so much time and energy planning these services, should evaluate them? Should we critique the placement of the flowers? How smoothly the processions went? Or should we dig deeper?

She writes:

Here are a couple of questions to ask in that post-Resurrection Sunday debrief:

Were questions asked that real people are asking? I know a pastor whose Easter message – several years ago – asked the question: “Did Jesus really rise from the dead on a Wednesday instead of a Sunday?” Honestly, who cares about that? What about questions like: “How do I find resurrection if my life feels inconsolably broken?”
Did you address the world beyond your congregation? 250 souls are still missing from the April 16 of a ferry accident in South Korean, most of whom were high school students. On April 15, about 100 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their school, and although most of them were freed on Wednesday, the experience has left them traumatized.
Did you address where resurrection is needed in your own neighborhood? Are your police officers tracking down heroin traffickers in your town? Are your school teachers working with students who experience tenuous home situations? What are the unemployment figures for your suburb?

Read the whole post here.

And how did your Easter services go?

The problematic rise of voluntourism

Rafia Zakaria takes on the rise of "voluntourism" vacations, or vacations which combine foreign travel with a helping of charity work, in a column on Al-Jazeera English.

She points out that these vacations fuel the white-savior complex that already runs rampant in much of the West, while doing little permanent good for those who actually need help. She cites an example of an orphanage in Bali, where parents would sent their children to 'work' as orphans, because visiting tourists would eagerly pay for their schooling and board. But when the tourist trade dried up, the children would be forced to beg on the street again for food and shelter.

She also acknowledges that one of the allures of foreign charity work is its simplicity, especially when compared to the grinding systemic problems of our own culture:

Typically other people’s problems seem simpler, uncomplicated and easier to solve than those of one’s own society. In this context, the decontextualized hunger and homelessness in Haiti, Cambodia or Vietnam is an easy moral choice. Unlike the problems of other societies, the failing inner city schools in Chicago or the haplessness of those living on the fringes in Detroit is connected to larger political narratives. In simple terms, the lack of knowledge of other cultures makes them easier to help.

This imagined simplicity of others’ problems presents a contrast to the intangible burdens of post-industrial societies. Western nations are full of well-fed individuals plagued by less explicit hardships such as the disintegration of communities and the fraying of relationships against the possibilities of endless choices. The burdens of manic consumption and unabated careerism are not as easily pitied as crumbling shanties and begging babies. Against this landscape, volunteerism presents an escape, a rare encounter with an authenticity sorely missed, hardship palpably and physically felt — for a small price.

Read the whole column here.

With Easter egg hunts, come iffy parents

Chaos broke out in New Zealand during what was supposed to be a charming Easter egg hunt.
Organizers expected around 5,000 children, but over 30,000 showed up. This, however, was not the main issue.

Problems arose when over eager parents, intent on harvesting the most chocolate eggs for their precious little ones, disregarded restrictions and entered the "children's only" egg-hunting area. Several children were injured in the melée, three of which ended up in the emergency room. Afterwards, frustrated parents took to the event's Facebook site to air their complaints.

Read the whole story here.

So how did the Easter egg hunting go at your local parishes?

In depth interview with Archbishop of Canterbury

Over the Easter weekend, the UK paper The Telegraph ran a multipart interview with ++Justin Welby which covers a lot of ground.

He further clarifies, though doesn't really walk back, his earlier statements linking attacks on Christians in Africa with increased support for LGBTQ rights in the West.

So in what sense was he misunderstood? “What I said is that I have been in places where that has been the reason given for attacking people,” he says. “Now, as I said then – and this is where there was misinterpretation – that doesn’t mean that you don’t do certain things. That would just be giving in to that kind of terror.” To argue that you should not bless a gay marriage here just in case it might cause a killing over there would be a kind of moral blackmail, wouldn’t it? “It would be. You can’t say, 'We’re not going to do X, which we think is right, because it will cause trouble.’ That’s ridiculous.” Instead, he is trying to acknowledge the need and suffering on each side and look through consultation for a way that will allow the Church to serve them both – however unlikely that may seem. “We are struggling with the reality that there are different groups around the place that the Church can do – or has done – great harm to,” he says. “You look at some of the gay, lesbian, LGBT groups in this country and around the world – Africa included, actually – and their experience of abuse, hatred, all kinds of things. “We must both respond to what we’ve done in the past and listen to those voices extremely carefully. Listen with love and compassion and sorrow. And do what is possible to be done, which is not always a huge amount,” he says.

Read the rest of the interview's Part 1 here.

Read Part 2, where he discusses the difficulties he has had confronting the Church of England's web of investments, here.

Orthodox Christians Celebrate Holy Fire on Easter

At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Orthodox Christians marked Easter with a 1,200 year old tradition of a new fire marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected at the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands in the Old City of Jerusalem. While the source of the holy fire is a closely guarded secret, believers say the flame appears spontaneously from his tomb on the day before Easter to show Jesus has not forgotten his followers.

The ritual dates back at least 1,200 years.

Thousands of Christians waited outside the church for it to open Saturday morning. Custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared by a number of denominations that jealously guard their responsibilities under a fragile network of agreements hammered out over the last millennia. In accordance with tradition, the church's doors were unlocked by a member of a Muslim family, who for centuries has been the keeper of the ancient key that is passed on within the family from generation to generation...

In mere seconds, the bursts of light spread throughout the cavernous church as flames jumped from one candle to another. Clouds of smoke wafted through the crammed hall as flashes from cameras and mobile phones documented what is for many, the spiritual event of a lifetime.

Some held light from the "holy fire" to their faces to bask in the glow while others dripped wax on their bodies.Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said tens of thousands of worshippers participated in the ceremony.

More on the Orthodox Holy Fire rite is available at the Huffington Post.

Pope Francis' Easter Vigil Message

At St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday, Pope Francis baptized ten new Christians at the Easter Virgil and, in his homily, urged those gathered to remember where they first found their faith. Pope Francis concluded by saying,

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Shannon Johnston and Tory Baucum build a bridge across an Anglican divide

For Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Diocese of Virginia and the Rev. Tory Baucum, rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, building a relationship was not easy in the wake of lawsuits over ownership of the Truro parish property. But in the spring of 2011, Johnston and Baucum began a friendship across a deep fracture in Anglicanism:

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Meditations for the Great 50 Days of Easter

The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead, dean of St.John's Cathedral in Jacksonville (where I happen to work) has recorded a series of less-than-one-minute video messages for the 50 days of Easter, corresponding to meditations in her new book, "Resurrecting Easter."

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'Roses to Go' takes Resurrection to the streets of Shaker Heights

Tuck this terrific idea into your evangelism team's futures file. The Rev. Peter Faass, rector of Christ Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio, wrote this in response to our post about Compline being brought to the public square:

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Through the darkness of Holy Saturday, we wait

Cafe contributor Fr. Andrew Gerns offers this wisdom on Holy Saturday:

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Transferring the observance

Today is Episcopal Cafe's seventh anniversary, but as it is also Holy Saturday, we are transferring the observance, as church folks say, to Thursday April 24. More then.

Understanding Good Friday

Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, recounts how his spiritual journey began one Good Friday long ago.

Thinking Anglicans:

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Pelosi assists Bishop Andrus at foot-washing

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) assisted Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus wash the feet of two children at a San Francisco church.


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God of the dark places

In her new book "Learning to Walk in the Dark," Barbara Brown Taylor nudges Christians to remember that God did not only create the light, but the dark. And she reminds us that often the most serious encounters with the divine happen in the dark. Take Good Friday, for example.

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The geography of evil

The Rev. Dr. Roger A. Ferlo, president of the Bexley Seabury Federation and professor of biblical interpretation and the practice of ministry, preached this sermon at Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, Chicago.

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Give ourselves in love

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies offers this Good Friday meditation for Episcopal Relief and Development:

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Taking compline to the streets

Two seminarians took compline to the streets on Monday night during Lent in Berkeley. Maggie Foster and Spencer Hatcher, both first-year students at Church Divinity School of the Pacific were discussing ways to attract people to local churches when they decided instead to bring one of the church's ancient liturgies out to the people.

From the CDSP website:

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Washing people's feet, washing people's clothes

"Washing people's feet is fine," I wrote last year on Twitter, "but more people would come to church if we offered to wash their clothes." That joke came back to me last night through the miracle of hashtags and retweeting, and it got me thinking.

I love the church's rituals, but it is important to trace them back to the source. When Jesus washed his disciples feet, their feet were dirty; they needed washing. His actions were symbolically powerful, but Jesus was doing a job that needed doing.

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"Holy Thursday" by William Blake

"Holy Thursday" (Songs of Experience) by William Blake

Read by Toby Jones

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Must a Christian believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead?

"On the third day, he rose again."

Must one believe that Jesus literally rose from the tomb to be a good Christian, or can one believe there was an "Easter event" that his disciples interpreted as a resurrection? Kimberly Winston explores this question in an article for Religion News Weekly.

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Charles Wesley wins Lent Madness' Golden Halo

Charles Wesley has defeated Harriet Bedell to win Lent Madness' Golden Halo. Here's the official release.

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Another religious film: "Heaven is for real"

Claudia Puig reviews "Heaven is for real" in Huffington Post, the movie based on the best selling book about a 4-year-old's near death experiences:

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Ethics and religion talk on legalizing prostitution

Rabbi David Krishef, in his "Ethics and Religion Talk" in Michigan Live, had three clergy panelists make arguments either for or against legalizing prostitution.

Here was the argument (against) made by The Rev. Nurya Love Parish, an associate priest, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church:

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Risks of popular anxiety drugs

NPR's All Things Considered, in an article by Susan Sharon, looks at the risks from the popular benzodiazepines:

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Noah the movie: eco-whacko?

Brook Wilensky-Lanford interviews Ari Handel, screen writer for the movie, Noah, on the environmental issues that some are calling eco-whacko, at Religion Dispatches. On Noah being an "environmental film":

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Public protest in Holy Week

Marcus Borg writes at Day 1 about Jesus' public protest following the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday:

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A church responds to hate in Overland Park

An Overland Park Episcopal Church responds to hate as reported in Time. The Rev'ds Benedict Varnum and Gar Demo write:

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Court returns church building to Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin

Episcopal News Service reports that the courts have ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church in property matters in the Diocese of San Joaquin:

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New play spotlights SC Episcopal bishop story

A new play, premiering in Charleston, South Carolina, tells the story of an Episcopal bishop murdered by one of his own priests in 1928. The play, written by Thomas Tisdale, is entitled "Truth in Cold Blood", and will debut in July, in conjunction with the Enthusiastically Episcopalian Conference.

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Bishop of Kansas releases a statement on OP shootings

The Rt. Rev. Dean Wolfe has released a statement on the shootings at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom in Overland Park, KS yesterday.

He says that the violence of Sunday is a reflection of the larger tide of violence that has overtaken the country.

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Bishop asked to pray at Prayer Breakfast

In another example of why you should always know how to pray off book, even as Episcopalians, President Obama closed the annual Prayer Breakfast today by inviting retired bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, to pray for the group.

+Gene chronicled the unplanned moment on Twitter, calling it as privilege.

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Episcopal Church hosts interfaith vigil

St Thomas Episcopal Church in Overland Park, KS hosted an interfaith vigil of peace and remembrance last night, in honor of the shooting victims at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom.

Their rector, the Rev. Gar Demo, was joined by Rabbi Jacques Cukiekorn of Temple Israel, and their cantor, Adirah Leibshutz.

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UPDATED: Suspect in Kansas Shootings had supremacy ties

More information is now emerging on the situation in Kansas, and it points towards a hate crime.

The shooter has been identified as Frazier Glenn Miller, from Aurora, Missouri. Travelling under the alias of Frazier Glenn Cross, Miller has long been active in the white supremacist community. At one point, he had been jailed for three years for illegal weapons, and for plotting the murder of the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Shooting on the Eve of Passover

Three people were shot and killed after a gunman opened-fire at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom. Two others were unharmed.

The vigil will be held Sunday at 8 p.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, located at 12251 Antioch Road, in Overland Park.

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Harvard Divinity School Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship Tackles Capitalism and Christianity

For the past four years, the Harvard Divinity School Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship has brought together leading Christian scholars and practitioners for an ecumenical and academic summit. This year, the Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship put together a symposium called, "Christianity and Capitalism" based on student interest.

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Gene Robinson on the Archbishop of Canterbury and Amendment of Life

Former Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson, in his new column at the Daily Beast, weighs in on recent comments by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on the connection between violence in Africa and LGBT marriage equality:

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Rev. Matthew Wright on Second Axial Age Emergence

The Rev. Matthew Wright, a priest serving St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Brewster, NY, and a member of the Community of the Holy Spirit's Bluestone Farm, believes that in our interspiritual world, the Christian Wisdom tradition must be revived and reexamined. In the Contemplative Journal, Matthew writes that becoming aware of Wisdom in our own traditions in this second axial age is the key to union, consciousness, and belonging:

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Flashback: Stephen Colbert on Jesus with a wife

In the news this week, a scrap of papyrus suggesting that Jesus had a wife turns out to be not a forgery. And Stephen Colbert, "America's most famous Catholic," lands a new job as David Letterman's replacement. The Huffington Post offers a roundup of religious highlights from "The Colbert Report," including this clip from a couple of years ago, when the scrap of papyrus in question first came to light:

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The trouble with 'Christian Seders'

Episcopal Cafe blogger Ann Fontaine is not alone in questioning whether it is appropriate for Christian congregations to hold Seders during Holy Week. J. Mary Luti, a retired seminary professor and pastor in the United Church of Christ, is troubled by the idea also. She writes:

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How to make a proper Palm cross

Gathering today to make Palm Sunday crosses? In this video, origami artist Leyla Torres has her mother-in-law, Yvonne Sutton, show us how it's done:

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Why evangelicals ought to love the Book of Common Prayer

An American evangelical scholar looks at the Book of Common Prayer and likes what he reads.

Alan Jacobs, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Baylor University and former professor of English at Wheaton College, has written a history of the Book of Common Prayer as part of Princeton University Press's Lives of Great Religious Books series.

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The relationship between Christian charity and government welfare

Lately, it has become fashionable that churches and charities should replace government in funding and managing social services. Mike Konczal calls this "the voluntarism fantasy," saying that a "complex interaction between public and private social insurance… has always existed in the United States."

The Week:

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"Homeless Jesus" finds a home

The sculpture "Homeless Jesus" has been installed at St. John's Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Grand Haven Tribune:

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CofE says why civil partnerships should remain in UK

The Church of England has officially submitted its reason why civil partnership should be retained now that same-sex marriage is legal in the UK.

Akin to the public comment phase for revised federal regulation in the US, the 12 week consultation period opened in January and closes next Thursday, April 17.

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Welby's assertion on massacre follows him "far, far away in America"

The Archbishop of Canterbury's comments linking progress toward LGBT equality in American churches to the massacre of Christians in Africa continue to reverberate.

The New York Times has filed a story that begins:

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