Bishop Sisk offers an update on resolution of General Seminary's crisis

General Seminary has issued a release that, while typically indirect in its language, seems to indicate that Bishop Mark Sisk, chair of the board of trustees, and the eight faculty members who had staged a walkout and were then fired, have agreed on the terms of the faculty's reinstatement.

It is worth noting, however, that the release quotes a faculty statement that is four days old. There is no confirmation from the faculty this evening that the matter is settled.

The release reads:

In a spirit of reconciliation and healing for the entire Seminary community, The General Theological Seminary (GTS) Board of Trustees announced this week an offer to presently reinstate eight faculty members. At that time the Board also affirmed its call to the Very Reverend Kurt Dunkle as President and Dean of GTS.

“During this challenging time, the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee have maintained open and honest communication with faculty members in the hopes that we may reconcile and end this disruption to our academic year,” said the Rt. Reverend Mark Sisk, Chair of the General Theological Seminary Board of Trustees. “We are grateful that our prayers have been answered and the good faith of all has been rewarded. We look forward to the faculty members returning to what they do best: educating and forming the future leaders of our Church in an environment of faith, respect and collegiality. The Very Reverend Kurt Dunkle, our Dean and President, is deeply committed to moving the Seminary forward.”

Professors Joshua Davis, the Reverend Mitties McDonald DeChamplain, Deirdre Good, David Hurd, Andrew Irving, the Reverend Andrew Kadel, the Reverend Amy Bentley Lamborn and the Reverend Patrick Malloy issued a joint response: “Thank you for your invitation to come together to find a way forward. We receive this invitation in the good faith in which it is offered. Thank you also for acknowledging that healing is not an easy thing to accomplish; we are appreciative of both the alacrity with which you seek to facilitate our return to work and the attention you are giving to a long-term process of reconciliation for the entire Seminary community.”

This week’s invitation would return faculty members to salaries and health benefits for the remainder of the academic year as they work to resolve all outstanding issues with the Board of Trustees. The faculty members would agree to not only return to the classroom, but also to participate in all campus activities such as common meals and community worship and abide by the terms of the Seminary Constitution, Bylaws and policies, and will work together with both the Board, President and Dean Dunkle and an outside mediator appointed to facilitate permanent reconciliation. A process of integrating the returning faculty back into classroom activity is under development so that there is as little disruption of class work as possible.

“The Board has the duty to set policy for a nearly 200-year-old religious institution which seeks to educate and form leaders – ordained and lay – for a church which is changing,” said Bishop Sisk. “Our students have always remained our top priority, both in their continuing education at the Seminary and their spiritual well-being. Together with our faculty, we look forward to turning our full attention to a fruitful and fulfilling academic year that befits our great responsibility.”

Ebola and social media

The power (and curse) of social media is again being debated during the Ebola crisis, especially after each new case in the US hits the front page.

When news hit that Dr. Craig Spencer, a New York physician, contracted Ebola while serving Doctors Without Borders in West Africa, social media either portrays him as a selfless humanitarian — or a reckless fool heedless of others’ health.

Social media certainly is certainly a handy tool for those who want to spread fear.

...users [can] take to the same outlets to share half-truths and rumors, perpetuating a number of irrational fears about Ebola. Misinformation can spread much faster across the U.S. than the virus ever could.

To see how much faster the which kind of tweet travels, check out the relative reach of the two tweets above. Both were snagged off Twitter at about the same time. One after fifteen hours, the other after three.

Still, social media can also spread useful information that can calm fears.

Another leading doctor in Sierra Leone, Dr. Modupeh Cole from Freetown’s Connaught Hospital, has died of Ebola. His death is a stark reminder of the danger that doctors and nurses across West Africa are facing during this unprecedented outbreak.

Many heard about Cole’s passing through their radios, which are everywhere, and have long been the key source of news in Sierra Leone. A significant number, though, found out through social media, which is quickly overtaking the radio as the de facto source for news.

Social media has also been a unifying source of strength for many in Sierra Leone. There have been many support groups that formed online and some of the most popular groups on Whatsapp are now called “Kick Ebola out of Salone” (The term of endearment for their country) or “Ebola is Real!"

The CDC is also using social media to quickly spread good information about the virus and the outbreak in this country.

This image speaks to the imbalance implicit in much of the media response:


It appears that, like any tool, social media in and of itself is morally neutral. The moral agents--the ones who can make social media "good" or "bad"--are people.

The seal of the confessional and child abuse

Archbishop of York John Sentamu says priests in the Church of England should no longer be bound by the centuries-old principle of confidentiality in confessions when they are told of sexual crimes committed against children.


He said that the Church of England must break the confidentiality of confession in cases where people disclosed the abuse of children. “If someone tells you a child has been abused, the confession doesn’t seem to me a cloak for hiding that business. How can you hear a confession about somebody abusing a child and the matter must be sealed up and you mustn’t talk about it?”

The inquiry was commissioned by Uganda-born Sentamu after an investigation by The Times newspaper exposed an Anglican priest, Robert Waddington, as a serial sexual abuser of children in England and Australia for more than 50 years....

...In July, Anglicans in Australia backed a historic change that breaks the convention that the confidentiality of what a man or woman tells a priest during confession is inviolable....

...Existing church law (in the Church of England) demands that the confession of a crime is to be kept confidential unless the person making the confession consents to the priest disclosing it.

The new wave of book banning: Poverty and class

Some folks don't want kids reading reality-based portrayals of poverty and class:

More worrying, however, is the recent rise in efforts to get books banned that cover poverty and social class. At a time when rising inequality and the demonisation of poorer people (both in the UK and the US) is commonplace, such attempts to remove books that depict the reality of life for people who are struggling should concern us all.

Numerous studies have shown that reading about people, issues or circumstances unfamiliar to us can engender empathy – in times of acute social and economic divisions this becomes all the more important. It is not just wealth that separates rich and poor, but ignorance and the absence of social contact.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of ALA [American Library Association], says: “We have seen challenges to books where the content [probes] conceived wisdom on issues like poverty and class or offers an alternative political viewpoint on a situation.” Authors such as Toni Morrison are continually targeted, she points out, because they are “writing about concerns related to race and class ... often unflinchingly portraying what African Americans have suffered in [the US].” Most books challenged are fiction but increasingly non-fiction works “that address diverse topics … or raise issues of class and the economic environment,” are also being contested she says.

Poor_mother_and_children%2C_Oklahoma%2C_1936_by_Dorothea_Lange.jpgA frequent complaint, according to Joan Bertin, executive director of the NCAC [National Coalition Against Censorship], is of books being “anti-capitalist”. She says this is conflated by some sectors of society as somehow undermining American or Christian values. Among the most high-profile books challenged lately was bestselling author David K Shipler’s The Working Poor: Invisible in America, targeted by a group of parents in Texas during Banned Books Week, and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America, which explores the challenges of low income and refutes the myths around poverty and supposed fecklessness. One of the many objections levelled at Ehreneich’s book was in 2011 when a parent argued that it promoted “economic fallacies and socialist ideas”.

Read it all in The Guardian.

63 percent of Americans believe blacks who can't get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.

Spelling out end of life views: a spiritual act

Religion News Service, Spelling out your views for end-of-life care is a "spiritual’ act:

The Pew Research Center’s new survey on end-of-life treatments found that most people (72 percent) have given at least some thought to what they might want or refuse. And nearly half (47 percent) have known someone in the last five years who was dealing with a life-threatening illness or in a coma.

However, far fewer — just 35 percent — of all adults say they’ve written down their end-of-life treatment wishes in any form of advance directive. Another 31 percent say they’ve talked about this with someone, but one in three Americans have said or done nothing to spell out what should be done if a time comes when they cannot speak for themselves.
Many factors can play into people’s reluctance to talk about or write down values or set limits on aggressive treatment when they are too ill to speak for themselves:

The view that one’s family should make such decisions.
The belief that the end of one’s life is God’s call, not one’s own, to make.
Hope that new cures or treatments will one day be available.
Concern that doctors will not heed one’s wishes at the critical moment.

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Case dropped against first Ugandans arrested under anti-gay bill

Vox has the good news:

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Episcopal leaders support repeal of casino gambling in Massachusetts

Episcopal Church leaders are at the forefront of the campaign to repeal the legalization of casino gambling in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reports on an interfaith prayer service last night at Harvard University's Memorial Chapel:

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Episcopal Church making uneven progress in repenting of racism

Last night at St. Philip's Cathedral, Episcopalians in the Diocese of Atlanta attended a service of repentance and reconciliation in response to the sin of racism.

In a pastoral letter announcing the service, the Rt. Rev. Rob Wright, the first African American bishop of the diocese wrote:

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The Rev. Jon White named next editor of Episcopal Café

The Rev. Jon M. White, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, in Beckley, West Virginia will become the new editor of Episcopal Café on November 25, the Café’s founding editor Jim Naughton announced today.

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Bishop calls for prayers following Parliament Hill shooting

From André Forget's article in the Anglican Journal:

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Episcopal Bishop on marriage equality in Wyoming

Michele Richinick on MSNBC:

Wyoming on Tuesday became the 32nd state to legalize gay marriage, joining several other conservative areas in allowing same-sex weddings.

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Social media and the events at GTS

We are interested in hearing your thoughts on the role that social media--specifically blogs, Facebook and Twitter--played in the events that unfolded over the last several weeks at General Theological Seminary. It feels to us as though the Episcopal Church has just been through a new experience and we'd like to try to understand it better.

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Episcopal Church in Minnesota forgives 1.2 million in loans

The Trustees of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota are forgiving all loans to their faith communities. Their press release:


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GTS faculty: we're ready to return to work

From Facebook:

Dear Friends,

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Bp of Pennsylvania: Some thoughts on the current moment at the General Theological Seminary and a modest proposal

The Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, 3rd, Bishop Provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania and member of the Board of Trustees has issued the following statement:

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Reaction to the Roman Catholic Synod continues

The senior cardinal of Great Britain, Vincent Nichols, has told the Telegraph that he believes the statement released by the recent Synod of Roman clergy did not go far enough to welcome all different sorts of families into the church.

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St Louis parents and teachers talk about race with kids

Leslie Scoopmire, seminarian and contributor to Episcopal Café and Danielle (Elle) Dowd, youth missioner for the Diocese of Missouri share how they discuss race with children in class and at home. St Louis Public Radio has the story:

As part of the continued coverage of these issues, St. Louis Pubic Radio, through the Public Insight Network, invited educators and parents to share how they talk about race at home and in school.
PIN_photo_Dowd_101514_0.jpgDanielle and Adam Dowd adopted their daughter, Alice, about a year ago, from Sierra Leone. “My daughter came to the U.S.A. at age 6, and we immediately started talking to her about race. We do not try to hide any information from her. We try to give her as much info as possible and then listen to her, and let her form her own opinions. She finds it all very interesting and often seeks out books from the library to learn more about the civil rights movement,” Dowd wrote.

Dowd works as the youth missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, supporting and overseeing youth groups throughout the diocese. “Many of the youth and youth groups that I work with are very interested in issues of social justice,” she wrote. “When I talk to youth groups and parents, these things come up. As a transracial family, we talk about race at home almost every day.

“I try to give historical context while not relegating racism as ‘history.’ It is something currently happening as well. I also try to explain systematic racism, which is ‘prejudice plus power’ ... the power (via representation in media, government, heads of corporations) to carry out those prejudices.” Dowd dismisses the notion of color blindness as a “privilege that people of color do not have.” “Color blindness erases the experiences of people of color and does nothing to dismantle racism, “ she wrote....

Leslie Scoopmire, St. Louis County

PIN_photo_Scoopmire1014.jpg“I have three kids: One is a young adult, 20, at college; one is a senior in high school, 17; and one is a freshman in high school, 14. I also just retired (from the Pattonville School District) after teaching middle and high school for 27 years. “With my own kids, (conversations about race occur) over situations they encounter at school, among their friends, or in the news. With my students, it was in discussing historical situations or the news.

“In history class, I would usually talk about the Civil War amendments (especially equal protection and due process clauses), Reconstruction, etc., and go from there.” Regarding the Brown case, “my son (Scott, 14) and I … talked about white privilege … “We also talked about the common tactic of criminalizing a suspect to justify their death at the hands of the police. We also discussed the two different ways the expectation of due process actually played out in this situation. We also talked about the double standard of rushing to judgment in this case, and that overreacting can inflame a situation.”

“Listen to the young people, and be open and honest. Talk about being aware of presumptions we all bring to the table. Treat kids and young people with respect and encourage examining our own views. Discussions should be conversations, not lectures. Be aware that the words an adult uses are heavier than one may realize, and can have a great impact. Be clear yourself, about your own views and attitudes. Remember that very few situations are clear cut.”

[Photo of Dowd family by Graham Gardner provided by the family.
Photo of Scoopmire family from family.]

ENS has this comprehensive report the Episcopalian presence in Ferguson:

Danielle Dowd was back in front of the Ferguson police department Oct. 15, just two days after being arrested there while protesting the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown and other African-American youths. Since Brown’s Aug. 9 death, “I’ve come a couple of days every week, except for when my 7-year-old daughter had her tonsils out and I needed to do the mom thing. I’ve been able to form some good relationships with young people, whose voices need to be heard,” Dowd, 26, youth missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, told the Episcopal News Service (ENS).

Similarly, the Rev. Jon Stratton, director of Episcopal Service Corps in the diocese, spent Oct. 13 – his 30th birthday – marching, singing, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? God’s streets,” and ultimately, being arrested.

They and other Episcopalians were among dozens jailed during a “Moral Monday” action at the Ferguson police department. It was part of a weekend series of acts of civil disobedience across the St. Louis region coordinated by “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and the Organization for Black Struggle.

Continue reading over at ENS.

Ebola in Church: Story from Liberia's Cathedral

Herman_Browne_web_web.jpgThe dean of Monrovia's Anglican cathedral entered voluntary quarantine and then preached about it, according to NPR. The Very Rev. Herman Browne had been preaching about ebola protection in his Sunday sermons from the beginning of the epidemic, but the message hit close to home when his wife's friend fell sick and his whole family was put at risk.

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GTS Alumni/ae Executive Committee releases statement--UPDATED

In the ongoing negative reaction to the Board of Trustees's decision on Friday not to reinstate the forcibly-resigned professors and to fully support the controversial dean, today, the Alumni/ae Executive Committee of the seminary issued the following statement, available on their Facebook page:

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Bishop Stokes, a board member, reflects on events at GTS

A statement on the crisis at The General Theological Seminary by Bishop Stokes of New Jersey and a Board Member:

October 20, 2014

Dear People of the Diocese of New Jersey:

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Trustee resigns from the GTS Board

In the aftermath of Friday's contentious decision by the Board of Trustees to not reinstate the forcibly-resigned faculty members, and to fully back the dean of the seminary, the reverberations continue to echo.

Yesterday evening, trustee Jeffrey Small, Jr of Atlanta, announced his resignation on Twitter:

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"The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord"

Scott Carter, a former standup comedian who once suffered from a near-death bout with asthma, has written a play called, "The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord". Carter's play is about spiritual questions from the perspective of the three men and, for Carter, is a means of understanding the spiritual questions of three individuals who wrestled with significant existential questions:

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Bp Dietsche of NY issues statement on GTS, calls for reinstatement of faculty

This statement was sent as an email to the Diocese this morning

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My brothers and sisters,

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Catholic Bishops fail to welcome gays, divorced Christians

On Saturday at the Vatican Extraordinary Synod on the Family, efforts to welcome LGBT and divorced Catholics failed:

Catholic bishops scrapped their landmark welcome to gays Saturday, showing deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families.

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Bp Breidenthal dismayed by GTS Board action

UPDATE: see below re: Diocese of California resolution.

The Rt Rev. Tom Breidenthal, Diocese of Southern Ohio, has posted a public statement about the General Theological Seminary Board of Trustees actions on Friday. From his Facebook page:

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Largely negative reaction to GTS Board statement

Yesterday, the Board of General Theological Seminary in New York City issued a statement after meeting with 8 faculty whom the Board claimed had resigned, though the faculty dispute that.

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Churches can play vital role in response to ebola

The Church has dealt with the issue of how to respond to infectious disease before, from the 1919 flu epidemic to swine flu. Today's concerns over ebola are again causing churches to examine practices such the passing of the peace and distribution of communion.

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Statement from the eight dismissed GTS faculty

The following statement was released this evening by the eight faculty dismissed by the Seminary.

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GTS Board: Dean to stay; faculty "resignations" still in effect; replacements okay


Statement from the Eight Faculty:

The following statement was issued tonight by the eight faculty whose job action resulted in their dismissal.

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Bishop Shaw of Massachusetts has died

Update #2. The Society of St. John the Evangelist has announced that the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, monk and, for 20 years, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, died on Friday, Oct. 17 in the care of his SSJE brothers at Emery House in West Newbury, Mass. He was 69.

Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts:

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Unconventional transitional housing

In Eugene, Oregon, local faith groups, religious leaders, and volunteers have created Opportunity Village, a community of small houses for the unsheltered homeless.


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The role of historically black colleges in church & society

The Union of Black Episcopalians and the Office of Black Ministries have issued a joint statement on the "Rationale for Historically Black Colleges of Episcopal Church."

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"It’s time to stop giving our crap to the poor"

Kristen Welch at the We Are that Family blog writes:

Somehow collecting clothes for immigrants has become the perfect opportunity to get rid of stuff we don’t want and gathering baby items for new moms is the perfect excuse to toss out stained and worn clothing we wouldn’t dare use again. I’ve packed suitcases with beautiful donations, but mostly I’ve pilfered through piles of junk donated in the name of Jesus.

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City subpoenas preachers, stirs controversy in Houston's anti-gay discrimination case

Some strange and objectionable goings on in Houston, where lawyers for the city issued subpoenas for the sermons of five preachers who are trying to overturn a city ordinance that bans discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.

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Bishop Robinson on Catholic synod: "hardly an earthquake, but definitely a tremor"

Bishop Gene Robinson writes in The Daily Beast:

This week’s working paper, released by the Synod on the Family taking place at the Vatican, is being hailed as an “earthquake” for the Roman Catholic Church. Hardly! It is only a tremor (albeit substantial), which may forewarn of a coming earthquake, or merely be relieving some of the tension that has been building over the past few decades.

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Justin Welby: what should we do about ISIS?

The Archbishop of Canterbury's reflection on how world leaders should respond to the threat posed by ISIS appear in the November issue of Prospect magazine in the United Kingdom, and online.

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A better grasp from Barna on why people aren't come to church

The Barna Group has a new report that plumbs the question of why fewer and fewer Americans are attending church.

The document names five trends:

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As Americans' fear of Ebola has been rising this week, a number of people are trying to remain calm, and properly direct peoples' attention to West Africa.

Mel Robbins warns about "catching Fear-bola" on CNN:

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Churches shed fossil fuel holdings

Kate Galbraith writes a "Green Column" called "Churches Go Green by Shedding Fossil Fuel Holdings" in the International Business section of the online New York Times. An excerpt:

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Court blocks abortion limits in Texas

From Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog's report:

Over the dissents of three Justices, the Supreme Court on Tuesday evening barred Texas from enforcing two parts of its new abortion-restriction law — one part as it applied throughout the state, the other as it applied to two clinics in the southwest part of the state.

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GTS Alums write to Board of Trustees

From the Executive Committee of The General Theological Seminary Alumni/ae Association:

October 14, 2014

Dear Bishop Sisk and members of the Board of Trustees:

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Former Presiding Bishop Griswold to facilitate GTS Faculty/Trustees meeting

Episcopal News Service is reporting:

Former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold will facilitate the Oct. 16 meeting between trustees of the General Theological Seminary and eight professors whose employment is at the core of the dispute involving complaints about the conduct of the school’s dean and president.

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Susan Snook on Re-imagining the Episcopal Church webcast

TREC1.pngThe Rev Susan Snook, church planter and rector of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Scottsdale, Arizona, member of the National Executive Council and Chair of its Budget Committee reflects on what she heard and saw in the webcast from the Task Force to Re-imagine the Episcopal Church. (quoted by permission):

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Nearly 50 arrested in Ferguson

release.jpgNearly 50 protestors were arrested, including the Rev. Anne Kelsey (retired rector of Trinity, St. Louis), interns at Deaconess Anne House Episcopal Service Corps (see Twitter feed below), director of the house the Rev. Jon Stratton and the Rev. Rebecca Ragland (interim pastor of Church of the Holy Communion, University City) . Scholar Cornel West, was also arrested. The Patriot News reports.

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Rate of decline in Sunday attendance little changed from recent years

The 2013 statistical totals for the Episcopal Church are now posted at the Research and Statistics site and the General Convention site.

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Synod of Roman Catholic Bishops discussing shift in church attitudes towards LGBTQ persons and divorced catholics

The Roman Catholic Church’s Synod of Bishops released a mid-term report this morning signaling a potential shift in the Church’s pastoral response to several issues, including remarried divorced persons and homosexuals. Cardinal Péter Erdő, General Rapporteur of the Assembly, in speaking of Jesus; said; "the Truth, became incarnate in human fragility not to condemn it, but to heal it”

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Mississippi Clergy Urge Governor to Take Back Control of Privately Run Prison

The Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, which includes Bishop Duncan Gray III, have drafted a letter to Gov. Phil Bryant urging the state to retake control of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility.

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When Ebola comes to church

George Mason, Senior Pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, reflects on the lesson Ebola is teaching him as a faith leader:

What we've learned in recent weeks is that there's a flip side to this truth as well: When we're carefully taught to love rather than hate, when we're carefully taught to care rather than shun, it shows up in our actions. And in times of crisis -- like when Ebola comes to church -- what we've been taught pops into full view.

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Marriage equality without job protection for same-sex couples

Pennsylvania was the only state with marriage equality, but no job protection for same-sex couples. Now there are several. has the story and the map:

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Integrity Elects New President

As reported at Episcopal News Service, Integrity, the organization dedicated to inclusion of LGBTQ persons into the full life of the Episcopal Church has elected Matt Haines to be their new President, filling the vacancy left by the departure of the Rev Dr Caro Hall.

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