The Onion's take on the ideal youth space at church

I'm not sure I can recall a piece in the Onion that more closely mirrored reality than this one. (How many aspects of your church's youth room are depicted here?)

FINDLAY, OH—Saying the space would offer a laid-back atmosphere and a variety of fun activities for young people, 31-year-old local youth pastor Marc Kindler told reporters Thursday the new rec room at Grace United Church of Christ has everything a teenager could want.

As he pointed out a collection of two dozen DVDs and Blu-rays, a board game shelf, and a kitchenette where several types of potato chips and other snacks are available, Kindler remarked that the 800-square-foot basement facility is filled with “all the stuff” kids love, and predicted it would be a big hit with 13- to 18-year-old members of the congregation.

Keep reading.

Cracks in the 'stained-glass ceiling'

Women clergy are more likely to lead small congregations than large ones, but Adelle Banks of Religion News Service notes that the "stained glass ceiling" is showing some cracks as women begin to lead large historic congregations. In recent months, the Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner became the first woman solo senior pastor at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Amy Butler was elected senior pastor of New York City’s Riverside Church and the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli began leading Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Banks writes:

Scholar Diana Butler Bass hailed the arrival of these women — all in their 40s and leading large, urban, neo-Gothic churches — but also wondered if they reflect the “General Motors phenomenon.”

“Are women coming into leadership only as the institutions are collapsing?” asked Bass, author of “Christianity After Religion.”

“Now that they’re in crisis, it’s almost like the men are moving out and, ‘Oh well, we’ll just leave it to the women.’ Then if the church doesn’t succeed, then it’s the woman’s fault. It’s a kind of a double-edged sword.”

Gaines-Cirelli, 44, doesn’t view it that way.

“I think there are challenges and I think that we face them and I think that the fact that women are being counted among those who are capable of facing those challenges at the highest level is a very positive sign,” said the native Oklahoman.

Read more. The Chicago Tribune features a comprehensive story on the unsanctioned ordinations 40 year ago of the first women priests in the Episcopal Church:

The Rev. Fran Holliday was a teenager when she felt a call to the priesthood, but continually met closed doors until she read about the ordinations in July 1974 in Philadelphia. The story of one woman in particular, the Rev. Nancy Wittig, stood out.

"It was so inspirational to me," said Holliday, now associate rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood. She wanted "to mark the event that was so practically and theologically important to the church" and invited Wittig to preside over three services in early August.

"These women were on the cutting edge and dedicated to living out the gospel. … They pushed the church to the gospel of full inclusion," Holliday said.

The ordinations — and a House of Bishops meeting in Chicago several weeks later at which they were declared invalid — made international news, drew death threats and jeopardized the livelihoods and reputations of all involved.

Read the full story here.

Giles Fraser: Are humans any safer in the hands of humanists?

The Rev. Giles Fraser takes on humanist Richard Dawkins, a proponent of eugenics in certain situations. Dawkins has written: “If you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability?” Fraser contends that no human is inherently better than another, and that religious believers of the world have a better track record than humanists of valuing the vulnerable among us. He writes in The Guardian:

Last week, Professor Dawkins was at it again, this time on Twitter. Responding to a woman who said that she would face a real ethical dilemma if she became pregnant with a baby with Down’s syndrome, his advice was thus: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.” In the heat of huge public outrage, Dawkins issued one of those non-apology apologies. But the damage was done.

To be absolutely clear: Down’s syndrome is not hereditary. So it cannot be bred out. So the belief that it is immoral to keep a Down’s syndrome child is not strictly a eugenic position. But the moral revulsion that we have at eugenics has little to do with genetics and everything to do with the way it treats the most vulnerable. For the problem with eugenics, like Dawkins’s belief that it is immoral to keep a baby with Down’s syndrome, is that it contains an implicit idea of what a better sort of human being might look like. It may seem obvious to Professor Dawkins that a tall athletic child with straight As at school is to be preferred to, let’s say, a child who has slanted eyes and a flat nasal bridge and is academically less adept, but it is not obvious to me. Morally, the category of the human ought to be entirely indivisible: all being of equal worth, irrespective of wealth, colour, class, ability. Some people are better at sport or sums, but nobody is better at being human, neither are there better sorts of human beings.

Read Fraser's column here.

ISIS and the crisis of meaning

News of the horrific violence perpetrated by members of the group ISIS, or IS, on Muslims, Christians, and other minorities continues to shock the world, and their deft use of social media propels their message. Now comes news that young people from the US and UK are among their most ardent recruits. How do we make sense of this phenomenon?

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, writing for the Huffington Post, sees this as symptomatic of a deeper crisis...a crisis of meaning.

One pointer is that the recruits who head off to Syria or Iraq to fight for ISIS are deeply ignorant of Islam itself.

The knowledge that potential recruits actually are ignorant of the religion they claim to be defending offers an opportunity. Prof. Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center wrote to me in an email that "part of the solution is more through, deeper, and more rigorous religious education from figures that actually carry credibility in the Muslim community."

Safi went on to offer a way to explain how a more informed, deeper understanding of religion can be a force for good in the world and one that resists violence:

As far as what I say to young people, my own message is fairly simple: Religion has always been and remains today a tool. It can be used to prop up the pharaoh; it can give voice to the deepest anguish and aspiration of the slaves. It is important to re-invest in the prophetic dimension of all of our religious traditions, so that young people can come to see religion as a way of standing up to tyranny, to occupation, to poverty, to violence, to sexism, to every form of degrading human dignity. And yet we have to keep insisting that the means to get there have to be resonant with our noble ideals. In other words, it is vital that we pursue that opposition to tyranny and violence in means that are themselves not tyrannical or violent.

Religion is one important means for helping young people find meaning and belonging, but it is not the only one. Religious leaders are not the only way to reach young people, as Mr. Hussain said in his call. The task also requires the family, the local community, teachers, pop culture, and people of good will online and offline.

Long term, ISIS and the lure of other violent extremism in Islam and other religions will only be stopped if we are all invested in reaching out to young people. We have to be available to listen to their concerns, empathize with their sense of alienation, and help them find constructive ways to engage societal injustice. It is all of our responsibility to empower this generation with the knowledge and support they need to find a meaningful life and a positive identity that they can embrace and be proud of.

Pastoral and practical ministry at the laundromat

Laundry Love is a growing faith-driven movement that helps people change their lives by letting them change into clean clothes. The organization partners with local laundromats and helps those who are homeless or struggling financially by doing their laundry for free.

It is the kind of grass roots outreach that shows that even small changes can have big impacts on the lives of people in need.

Washington Post:

You’re not just checking a box to give a donation. You’re spending the whole evening with these people and getting your hands dirty and it’s intimate — you’re doing people’s laundry,” said LuzAnna Figueroa, who volunteers at the group’s Huntington Beach chapter and has grown close to Mitchell and her daughter.

Richard Flory, a religion expert from the University of Southern California who has studied Laundry Love extensively, said Mitchell is just one example of how the organization can profoundly impact people through something as simple as washing their clothes.

“It’s an opportunity for people . to live out their faith out in a concrete way, in a frankly elegantly simple model where you do something that’s necessary for people who don’t have the means to do it for themselves,” Flory said.

The movement began about 10 years ago with a small Christian church in Ventura, California, and has since spread to more than 100 locations throughout the country to people from all faiths.

Is it segregation on Sunday or safety?

Tom Ehrich wonders of the most segregated hour in the week might not also be a search for a safe space, where people can just be themselves without reproach, glares or the fear of violence.


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Do miracles happen?

Reform magazine, the journal of the United Reformed Church, asked four people to respond to the question of miracles.

Maggi Dawn, associate professor of theology and literature, and dean of Marquand Chapel at the University of Yale, says:

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Polygamy is legal in Utah

A federal judge finalized an earlier order striking part of Utah’s bigamy law on Wednesday. But don't expect households of 'sister wives' to pop up in a neighborhood near you anytime soon.

The suit was brought by the members of a plural marriage featured on a TLC reality series.

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Episcopal Relief: Stopping the spread of Ebola

Episcopal Relief and Development is helping to stop the spread of Ebola in Africa:

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Justice Dept. files suit against town for blocking Islamic center

145px-Allah1_no_honorific.pngThe US Justice Department has filed a suit against the town of St Anthony, Minnesota for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act passed by Congress in 2000. Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports:

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Napa church severely damaged in quake

Episcopal News Service reports on the earthquake damage to St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Napa.

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Alleged conflict at Duke Divinity School

dukediv.jpegDuke Divinity

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Church's politics in one graph

Linked is the American religio-political landscape in a graph, provided by Religion News Service's Tobin Grant. He writes:

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It’s time to recalibrate expectations for clergy

Faith & Leadership's Call and Response blog looks at the question of expectations for today's clergy where the institutional model is full-time clergy, but the economic realities are part-time, bi-vocational, or unpaid. From Nathan Kirkpatrick's post:

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Is Ferguson an outlier?

Many people have speculated about the climate of Ferguson before the shooting of Michael Brown.

An NPR story by Joseph Shapiro looks at the high court fines and fees:

Supporting clergy in difficult calls

NECA.pngWalking With instead of Walking Away: Fourth essay in the Care for Clergy Series.This is the fourth essay in the Care for Clergy in Difficult Calls writing project. The Rev. Dennis Fotinos writes:

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10 Ways White Christians can respond to Ferguson

Troy Jackson writing at Sojourners gives 10 practical ways White Christians can respond to the events in Ferguson:

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Plunged into chaos

Virginia Theological School seminarian, Broderick Greer, writes about baptism and Ferguson at Huffington Post:

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Bridging culture and faith through art

Caravan is joint project between Egyptian and Western artists that seeks to bridge difference. At the National Cathedral in Washington DC this year's presentation is AMEN: A Prayer for the World. From the press release:

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India has a brilliant alternative to the Ice Bucket Challenge

If you have eyes, and an internet connection, then you've seen a video recording of someone getting ice water dumped over their heads in the past month or so.
This is a challenge dreamed up to raise awareness and money to fight ALS (formerly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease), known as the Ice Bucket Challenge. Basically, once someone calls you out, you then have 24 hours to film yourself having a bucket of ice water dumped over your head, or you must pay $100 to a charity that funds ALS research, then you call out several more people.

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Bishop Tom Shaw releases a new statement

Bishop Tom Shaw, SSJE, has written a letter to the Diocese of Massachusetts, which he serves as bishop.

He writes:

As my date of retirement nears, I want to be in touch with all of you and to thank you for your continued expressions of care and concern. We have known since the beginning, when I was diagnosed with brain cancer in May of last year, that we are dealing with a difficult kind of cancer. We have been hopeful in the therapies we’ve pursued over these months, but we now know that for me there is no cure. At the recommendation of my medical team, I’ve decided now to pursue a course of treatment that will provide a good quality of life, though for how long, we can’t be sure.

He states also that he deeply appreciates the prayers and expressions of love that he receives daily.

The whole statement is available on the diocesan website.

Theology in Ferguson, as Michael Brown is laid to rest

Michael Brown, the unarmed 18 year old boy who was shot by a police officer sixteen days ago, is being laid to rest today, in an overflowing homecoming service. Last week, his stepfather requested that the protests cease for this one day, out of respect for the family, a request that seems to be being heeded by most.

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Black clergy of Ferguson write a protest letter

The Huffington Post reports the National African-American Clergy Network wrote a letter, late last week, decrying the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Since then, it has grown exponentially, collecting signatures from folks as diverse as the head of the National Council of Churches to the head of the Seventh Day Adventists.

The statement reads, in part:

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Can someone just shoot Jesus already?

Over at Medium, Dexter Thomas offers his Christological reflection on Michael Brown's shooting:

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James Foley and prayer

As we learn more about the life and faith of James Foley following his execution at the hands of ISIS, Alana Massey at Religion Dispatches writes about Foley's prayer life:

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Diocese of West Tenessee clergy participate in ALS ice bucket challenge

As people across the country participate in the ALS "Ice Bucket Challenge", some Episcopalians are getting into the act. At 4:00 p.m. on Friday, August 21st,, the bishop of West Tennessee and a group of clergy from the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee gathered downtown on the steps of St. Mary’s Cathedral to dump water over their heads in support of the ALS Association’s ice bucket campaign.

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Sanctuary movement of the '80s springs to new life in Arizona

From the Arizona Republic:

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Book explores U.S. chaplain's ministry to Nazi criminals

From Religion News Service:

He was a minister to monsters.

That’s what Tim Townsend writes of Henry Gerecke, the unassuming Lutheran pastor from Missouri who shepherded six of the most notorious Nazis to the gallows in “Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis.”

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Giles Fraser: How to rid the world of religious violence

Giles Fraser notes in the Guardian that "the history of religious belief is a history of horrendous violence: intolerance of others, burnings and lynchings, religious wars in which millions have died, torture, persecution." He writes:

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The ministry of embattled Christians in North Korea

Doug Wallach, a student at Princeton University, writes at the Huffington Post about the plight and ministry of Christians in North Korea, who make up a tiny but determined portion of the country's population:

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Living in another's skin and our own

Ericka Hines has some excellent insights about biases and privileges, with suggestions about how we can learn to recognize and combat them. Tobias Haller reflects on what his experience of privilege teaches him.

She notes (shared with permission from Facebook):

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Food pantry feeds the soul and the body in Ferguson

The Rev. Steve Lawler says this the food pantry at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church was already important to the community before the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown but the violence that followed caused the pantry to shut down just when local residents needed them the most. But now the pantry in serving more people than ever.

Huffington Post:

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Faith, teens and digital media

Art Bamford of Fuller Youth Institute talks to danah boyd, author of the book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. boyd is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft, a Professor at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

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Vicky Beeching comes out

Vicki Beeching is a rising star in the evangelical pop-music world. Her music is played in churches and on Christian radio all over the US and UK and she has told the world that she is gay and that God loves her just as she is.

Beeching is an Anglican. She is a regular commentator on the BBC and Sky News, is an Oxford-trained theologian, a PhD candidate, and has been influential in the Anglican Church’s debates on gender. She personally told Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby that she was gay.

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Top five reasons why seminaries matter

Seminary education has entered a period of great change and uncertainty across the historic mainline denominations. Religious leaders are asking whether there are too many seminaries, whether they cost too much and whether seminaries are educating students to lead a church that is also in a period of change and uncertainty. There is even discussion, in some quarters, about a University of Phoenix, higher education for profit approach to theological education.

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The faith of a murdered war photographer

(Photo: Marquette University alumni magazine)

Daniel Burke of CNN has written a moving story of the faith of James Foley, the war photographer who was beheaded earlier this week by ISIS, the extremist movement that has made significant territorial gains recently in Iraq and Syria. It begins:

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Episcopal response to killing and unrest in Ferguson continues to unfold

Dean Gary Hall of Washington National Cathedral and young adults associated with the Union of Black Episcopalians are among Episcopalians responding to the killing of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by police officer Darren Wilson and the subsequent unrest it has triggered in Ferguson, Missouri.

Writing for On Faith, Hall says:

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Tutu calls for boycott of Israel

In an article for Haaretz, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has called for an international boycott of the nation of Israel.

Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa writes:

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"Religious leaders in Ferguson are giving us hope"

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Executive Religion Editor of The Huffington Post, published an article called "How These Righteous Religious Leaders in Ferguson Are Giving Us Hope". An excerpt:

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UPDATED: Bishop of Virginia issues statement on marriage equality

Barring a last minute stay from the Supreme Court, marriage equality will be the law in Virginia tomorrow, Thursday August 21. [UPDATE: The Supreme Court has issued a stay.] The bishop of the Diocese of Virginia this afternoon issued this statement and guidance:

August 20, 2014

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Who's being helped by the ALS challenge?'s Stephon Dingle tells an ALS story in light of the Ice Bucket Challenge:

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Gaza's only Christian hospital struggles

Sam Hailes writes in Lapido Media on Al-Ahli, Gaza’s only Christian hospital. An excerpt:

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12 Ways to be a White Ally to Black People

Wondering what you as a white person can do to change the racism in the U.S."
The Root names 12 ways to be a white ally:

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Trayvon Martin's mother writes to Michael Brown's family, NCC adds support

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin has written to the family of Michael Brown

I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Of particular concern is that so many of these gun violence cases involve children far too young.

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Conservatives make mockery of religious oppression

"How conservatives make a mockery of the oppression of religious minorities. Some Christians equate not getting their own way in the political sphere with brutal and unjust persecution." From The Guardian:

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Finding work as a young pastor is difficult

Young ministers face difficult search for stability in their chosen profession. The New York Times reports:

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Talking to kids about difficult subjects

FORMA, always a wealth of information, has put forward resources that can be used to discuss issues like Ferguson with children and youth in your faith community.

Written and compiled by Danielle Dowd, the diocesan youth missioner in the Diocese of Missouri (where Ferguson is located), she points out:

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Ferguson: what we heard from the pulpit

Yesterday, Ann Fontaine asked you what you heard from the pulpit. Preachers, what did you say?

Here are some of the responses we received.

The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in St. Louis:

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Bishop David Russell, veteran in the struggle against apartheid, has died

Bishop David Russell, a long-time fighter in the South African church's struggle against apartheid and injustice, has died at the age of 75.

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A powerful moment in Ferguson

With the unending stream of horrifying images coming out of Ferguson this past week--the tear gas, the unrest, the arrests of reporters, and the curfews, you may have missed what happened there yesterday.

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